Understanding and Treating Arthritis

By: DogTrekker Staff

By Dr. Angela Gaeto, DVM, of the Helen Woodward Animal Center community in San Diego County.

Understanding Arthritis

Arthritis is the general term for inflammation in a joint. Early in life bones are well protected by cartilage at the joint surfaces and well padded with joint fluid. As dogs age, this cartilage starts to break down and the joint fluid is thicker. Therefore bones are less protected from wear and tear creating this joint inflammation and often pain.

Arthritis can stem from many different conditions. Previous orthopedic injuries are a very common cause because previous inflammation in the joint started the cascade of changes leading to arthritis. Arthritis can also begin from inherited conditions such as hip dysplasia. One of the most common causes of arthritis in dogs is excess weight. Years of increased stress on joints promotes arthritic changes.

Symptoms of Arthritis

The two biggest symptoms of arthritis are decreased mobility and pain. It can be difficult to discern these changes in dogs but there are several symptoms to look for. Dogs can often be seen having difficulty getting up and laying down. They may also be more reluctant to stretch out their limbs. Some dogs may show a limp or seem to favor one leg or side of their body. Dogs may be more reluctant to jump up or down, run, play, or climb stairs. Older dogs may start to show signs of pain by vocalizing when they move and shying away from having certain areas of their body touched. It’s important to remember that the arthritis process occurs over a period of months, not days so these changes are often very subtle. Consider long-term changes in your dog when deciding if they may be suffering from arthritis pain.

Treating Arthritis

There are many different treatments for arthritis. When patients are first diagnosed with arthritic changes some of the first changes that can be made are adding supplements to the diet and adding food to promote joint health. Supplements that are designed to help with arthritis include Glucosamine and Chondroitin. These supplements promote joint health by slowing cartilage destruction and increasing joint viscosity. There are prescription foods available that can help as well. These foods have a balance of fatty acids to improve joint function. Not all dogs should change diets especially if they are on diets to treat other medical issues such as allergies or kidney disease. Owners can help their dogs by promoting exercise with less impact. Many older dogs have a hard time walking and running but do very well with swimming. Swimming puts very little stress on their joints and is enjoyable for many dogs. Veterinarians can also recommend anti-inflammatory medications to help decrease joint inflammation.

There are several other treatment modalities for arthritis including cold laser therapy, acupuncture, and stem cell therapy. All of these modalities can help dogs with arthritis pain. Many dogs benefit from a multi-step treatment approach to their arthritis.

Photo Credit: Mark Robinson (CC)