Arthritis is a very common progressive disease that affects dogs, especially middle-aged to senior individuals. The majority of older dogs will be affected. It is, in its simplest form, an inflammation of the joints. While signs will be subtle at first, as the disease worsens dogs can begin to visibly struggle with their mobility.
Arthritis tends to be a genetic condition; a dog is more likely to develop it if either of their parents had it. This is why it is important to screen breeding stock for joint problems. As well as genetics, possible causes would include:
We usually check for arthritis when an owner picks up on some changes in their dog. They may notice they are taking longer to stand up, walk with a stiff gait, limp from time to time or struggle to keep up on walks. More subtle signs can include licking at joints and grumpiness.
A vet may pick up on the fact that there is some muscle wastage in places such as above the hips. When feeling the joints, a vet might detect a reduced range of motion and some creaking and clicking joints (‘crepitus’). Dogs may dislike having their joint flexed and extended.
We can confirm arthritis with diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays. This can be useful to rule out other causes of a dog’s symptoms such as a joint infection or bone cancer.
Importantly, the severity of the arthritis on x-rays doesn’t always correlate with the signs. Some dogs may have minor changes on an x-ray but very obvious signs of joint disease. We should treat the patient and not their x-rays.
Sadly, there is no cure for this debilitating joint disease. Our aim is to slow down the progression and keep affected dogs as comfortable and content as we can.
The ideal treatment will depend on the individual and usually consists of a variety of things including:
While those destined to develop arthritis due to their genes or conformation will likely get it regardless of what we do, we can slow down the process.
All dogs should be kept at a slim weight and require a consistent exercise routine. Avoid being a ‘weekend warrior’. A weekend warrior is someone who doesn’t have time to walk their dogs during the week and overcompensates with long hikes on the weekend; this puts a lot of pressure on joints.
Joint food and supplements can be started from a young age, ensuring your dog’s joints have all the building blocks needed to stay as healthy as they can.
Though arthritis is a frustrating condition to deal with, there are plenty of things an owner can do to help keep their pet comfortable. Be cautious not to ‘diagnose’ arthritis at home and always consult with your vet if you have concerns about your dog’s mobility.