Just like us humans, dogs can get osteoarthritis (OA), also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). Arthritis is often thought to be prevalent among older dogs, however, dogs of any age can be affected by arthritis. In fact, it is estimated every one in five dogs is potentially suffering from arthritis!
What Is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis; it is a complex condition that involves the inflammation and degeneration of one or more joints. During the degenerative progress of arthritis, cartilage within the joint begins to break down and not replaced, and supportive structures (e.g., ligaments) to the joint is weakened, leaving the joint weak and unstable. This results in inflammation, pain, and decreased range of motion.
What are the risk factors for arthritis?
Although any dog can develop osteoarthritis, some common risk factors include:
- Large breed or giant breeds (e.g., Great Pyrenees, Golden Retrievers, Irish Wolfhounds)
- Age, particularly older dogs
- Developmental joint disease (e.g., elbow/hip dysplasia, luxating patella, cruciate disease, osteochondritis dissecans)
- History of trauma/surgery (e.g., past fractures, cranial cruciate ligament tears)
- History of abnormal forces (e.g., repetitive actions that cause abrupt stops/turns, high impact dog sports, obesity, slippery floors/stairs)
- Disease and/or infections that affect the joints (e.g., Lyme disease)
- Improper nutrition
- Poor conformation or genetics
What are the potential signs of arthritis?
Although there is currently no cure for OA, early detection of arthritis allows us to initiate treatment quickly, implement management plans to help alleviate pain and maintain function, thus providing our dogs a better quality of life.
One of the tell-tale signs of arthritis is the presence of chronic pain. Unfortunately, many pet guardians find it difficult to recognize chronic pain in dogs. Here are some of the most common remarks from pet guardians,
“If he is in pain, then he won’t chase the cat [or insert other favorite activity]!”
“He only limps after going to the dog park.”
“He is just slowing down.”
“He is just getting old.”
To help pet guardians identify potential signs of chronic pain in their dogs, look for changes in the following Canine Arthritis Management factors:
- Behavioral changes
o Changes in temperament (e.g., more grumpy, irritable)
o Licking their joints/paws
o Depression and/or lack of interest in activities they normally enjoy
o Sleeping more than usual or difficulty settling down
o Avoid being touched or groomed
- Postural changes
o Stand with a roaching spine (like hunched back)
o Hold the head lower than normal
o Weight shifting when standing (e.g., rotate one leg outward/inward, stand with one foot more forward)
o Favor one side when sitting or lying down
- Mobility changes
o Limping or skipping, even occasionally
o Hesitation when using stairs and/or going across slippery floors
o Slowing down on walks
o Stiffness or difficulty getting up after resting
Once you have identified the potential signs of chronic pain, have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the degree of damage presence and rule out other conditions that present similar symptoms. After obtaining a diagnosis, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to alleviate pain and maintain joint function. Nonetheless, it is important to continue monitoring the signs of chronic pain to make sure that the treatment plan is working.
In addition to veterinary medicine, there are many effective strategies that can be implemented to further support your dog in your home environment. We will discuss more about these strategies in Part II in our December newsletter. Stay tuned!
Siny Tsang, PhD, is a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer (CPCFT) and small animal massage and acupressure practitioner. She is the owner of Core Pawtential, LLC, which offers in-person canine fitness and bodywork sessions in northern NJ, as well as remote canine fitness consultation worldwide. More information about Siny’s work can be found at http://www.corepawtential.com.