What is Arthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) — degenerative joint disease — is the most common form of arthritis in dogs and humans. It involves joint damage due to age-related wear and tear or following joint injuries, which contributes to pain and inflammation within the joints. The most commonly affected joints are the knees, elbows, hips, and backbone.
Which dogs are affected?
Arthritis is particularly common in older and obese dogs, as well as large breeds such as Labradors and retrievers. However, all dogs can be at risk. Most dogs suffer a gradual onset of the disease, with it becoming steadily worse over time.
Diagnosing the disease
In some cases, a vet may be able to make a diagnosis of arthritis based on a thorough examination of a dog’s joints if they are markedly stiff, have a poor range of movement, are thickened, or painful. If the arthritis can’t be diagnoses through sight, X-rays can be done which show changes in bone contour and density in the joints.
Regular controlled exercise is paramount for dogs with arthritis. Several short periods of exercise a day rather than one massive walk are recommended for arthritic dogs. Affected dogs tend to cope better if their exercise levels are consistent. The amount and type of exercise should be appropriate to the dog in question and his current ability. Seek advice from your vet if you’re unsure.
Symptoms of arthritis
It can be difficult to spot a dog with arthritis; the disease tends to creep up slowly and many dogs learn to cope with soreness without showing any obvious pain but the following signs can be detected:
Swelling and thickening of the structures of the joint.
Difficulty/slow in getting up.
Particularly stiff following a rest.
A reduction in mobility.
Muscle wastage due to lack of use.
There is no cure for arthritis but dogs who suffer from the disease can still lead happy and active lives. When it comes to treating arthritis there are a variety of options available. Most dogs with arthritis will require non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain-relieving medicines (NSAIDs) to help reduce pain and swelling.
In terms of complementary therapies, acupuncture and physiotherapy can prove very helpful in some arthritic dogs. The process has to be repeated at regular intervals and can be costly.
Physiotherapy can help dogs to keep mobile and maintain muscle strength. It can also be used to relieve pain and stiffness.
Hydrotherapy (swimming) can be very beneficial; it allows dogs to exercise without their joints having to bear any weight. It can help to ease the discomfort of arthritis and build up a dog’s strength and stamina.