Arthritis is debilitating disease causing stiffness and pain in the joints. The most common
arthritis in dogs is osteoarthritis, named because the problem is caused by the bones. Arthritic dogs have a hard time getting around. The easy run becomes a stiff walk; the jump to a favourite chair is no longer possible; lying down is accompanied by a deep groan. They may no longer be interested in playing with dog toys, walking or any other physical activities and prefer to spend most of the time sleeping. ‘Arthritis’ is one of the most common ailments seen in middle-aged to older pets.
Causes of Arthritis
In arthritis, the cartilage lining of the joints wears down and the lubricating oil (synovial
fluid) in the joint is less than it should be. This is caused by many factors, including damage due to old age, injury and growing defects (elbow and hip dysplasia). Arthritis is painful and can be very debilitating.
We see a lot of arthritis problems in middle to old-age dogs, especially if they were very active when young. A large number of cases are due to joint injury, the most common being a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in the knee (stifle).
Breeds prone to Arthritis
Any dog in any age group can get arthritis; however, medium to large breeds are usually susceptible to acquiring Arthritis as they carry more weight and are therefore more likely to damage their joints. Some of these breeds include Labradors, Retrievers, Rottweilers and German Shepherds. Very active dogs can simply wear out a joint by the time they reach middle to old age, while younger animals can injure a joint and quickly develop arthritis if left untreated and unstable.
How do I know that my dog suffers from Arthritis?
Arthritis makes your lovable dog unable to jump to his favourite chair. Some pets hide their arthritis pain, but you’ll notice they don’t want to play because it’s difficult to run and wrestle. They can’t leap on or off the bed, or climb into a car without help. So, you have to keep a keen watch on changing behaviour or following activity of your dog in order to determine whether he is suffering from Arthritis or not.
Here are a few symptoms to watch out
Limping: You may see your pet limping or favouring one or more of his legs, depending on which legs and which joints are arthritic. In some cases, the limp may seem worse when your pet first rises and becomes less noticeable as your pet ‘warms up’ by moving around.
Difficulty in moving: Your pet may also become reluctant to do things that were previously easy for him to accomplish. For instance, your dog may find it difficult to get into and out of the car or may have difficulty going up and down stairs that were previously easily manageable. Arthritic cats, on the other hand, may stop jumping onto countertops, perches and other high areas because of the pain and discomfort.
Spinal issues: Arthritic changes can occur not only in the legs but also in various parts of the spine. These changes may result in a sore neck, an abnormal posture with a ‘hunch’ in the back, or lameness of one or both hind legs.
Tiredness: Your pet may tire more easily. For dogs, this may mean that walks become shorter and more painful for your pet. Your pet may spend more time sleeping and/or resting.
Irritability: Arthritic animals may become irritable. They may snap and/or bite when approached or handled, particularly if the petting or handling takes place in a manner that increases their pain.
Muscle atrophy: Arthritic pets often develop muscle atrophy or dying off of the muscle tissue due to inactivity and decreased use of the muscles. A pet with atrophied muscles in their legs will have a leg which looks thinner than a normal leg.
Licking, chewing, biting: Pets affected with Arthritis may also begin to lick at, chew or bite at body areas that are painful. This may even reach the point of causing inflamed skin and hair loss over affected areas.
Coping with Arthritis
As a responsible pet parent, you can help your pooch to deal with this painful condition by the following practices:
Slimming down: If your dog is overweight, commit to helping him slim down. Extra weight places extra strain on joints, worsening the pain of arthritis. Feeling guilty because your dog is looking longingly at his food bowl? Mix a little pumpkin (unsweetened, not canned) into his dinner; it’s healthy, low cal, and will help him feel full.
Gentle exercise: Your dog absolutely still needs regular exercise; it is a must to keep him moving and from stiffening up, just make sure it’s controlled, gentle, low impact, and short in duration.
Ramps & pet steps: Help your arthritic dog get up steps, on to a bed, or in and out of cars with a ramp or pet steps.
Improved traction: Arthritic dogs are less steady on their feet. Offer them stability with secure rugs for traction.
Canine massage: Massage eases sore muscles, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress for both the giver and receiver. Plus, it’s great for bonding and a wonderful way to check in with your older dog, enabling you to note any new lumps, bumps or sore places.
Acupuncture: Veterinary acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s own pain relieving and anti-inflammatory substances.
Sweet heat: Heating pads relieve aches, healing benefits including pain relief, muscle relaxation, stimulating acupuncture points, releasing trigger points, and healing injuries.
A supportive bed: A firm orthopaedic foam bed that distributes the dog’s weight evenly reduces pressure on the joints and can help an arthritic dog as he curls up with favourite dog toys.
Can canine Arthritis be prevented?
Keeping your dog fit with exercise and proper nutrition may, in some cases, help prevent Arthritis, or possibly slow its progression once the condition has set in. In fact, if your dog is a larger breed, it’s necessary to monitor the type and amount of food given when his bones are still growing. However, arthritic conditions cannot always be predicted or prevented, especially those that are inherited. But with your love and care, you can always make life easier and comfortable for your pooch.
(Dr Ashwani Kumar Singh and Dr Kumar Mangalam Yadav are interns at Government Veterinary Hospital, Bharatpur, Rajasthan).