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Arthritis in Old Dogs

Guide for arthritis in old dogs

For those who own them and love them, Dogs are family, and it is not easy to see a family member getting old and suffering from arthritis disease. Arthritis is the first sign of aging in most dogs. There are more than 77 million pet dogs in America. From which, almost 20% i.e. one out of every 5 dogs older than one year suffers from arthritis. Prevalence of Arthritis is sadly up to 80% in dogs older than 8 years.

Of all the animals, dogs suffer from arthritis the most because of excessive exercise, injuries, and genetic predisposition. Let’s have a detailed looking into arthritis and the treatments and steps we can take to make the life of a beloved pet easier.

Arthritis and its types

Arthritis is the most commonly diagnosed disease of joints in dogs. In normal healthy joints, cartilage acts as a cushion to prevent friction during movements. In arthritis, the cartilage protecting the joints breaks down hence increasing the friction between bones and joints. In the absence of cartilage, bones get damaged. It causes discomfort and severe pain. Arthritis can develop on any joint in the body but it mostly affects limbs and the lower spine.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is also called Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD).  Other types include Rheumatoid Arthritis and Septic Arthritis, which are basically due to joint infections. In almost every type of arthritis, there is a loss of cartilage or bone-in joint.

Causes and Predisposing factors of Arthritis

Following are some of the major causes of arthritis in dogs.

  • Aging
  • Obesity
  • Deterioration of joint cartilage over time
  • Excessive movement e.g. fly ball or running
  • Previous injury or trauma
  • Underlying disease processes
  • Poor nutrition
  • Genetics

Larger breeds like German shepherds, Labradors, Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, and Rottweiler are at higher risk of developing arthritis because they have more weight, which puts more strain on bones and joints. Studies have revealed that male animals are more likely to develop arthritis disease as compared to females. It is mainly due to activity and weight differences. Gonadal hormones protect against arthritis. Due to this reason, the incidence of arthritis is higher in neutered dogs.

Purebred dogs are more prone to arthritis potentially linked to inherited defects related to the conformation of some breeds. Similarly, joint dysplasia in the hip or elbow, which is the failure of normal joint formation in development, can lead to arthritis. Poor nutrition and lack of exercise may cause the early onset of aging, which in turn leads to arthritis disease.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Arthritis is degenerative, and it starts mild and worsens with time. A dog may be suffering from arthritis for a long time without showing symptoms before it is eventually detected.

 Following are some of the symptoms shown by dogs suffering from arthritis.

  • Limping

Lameness can be episodic and dog may warm out of lameness i.e. light exercise but strenuous exercise increases the severity of lameness.

  • Stiffness

Stiffness is worsened by inactivity, for example, sleep or cage confinement.

  • Reluctance to move or jump
  • Licking or biting of affected areas
  • Loss of interest in play
  • Dog is less alert than usual
  • Reduced appetite
  • Loss of muscle mass over limbs and spine
  • Signs worsen when it’s cold or damp
  • Range of motion (ROM) is decreased
  • Pain when touched or petted

Diagnosis

Diagnosing older dogs with arthritis begins with owners observing the difference in the behavior of an animal. Dog behavior is different while running or jumping due to pain. During a physical exam for diagnosis, the animal shows signs of severe pain, whines, and tries to move away. Radiographic examination like X-rays is the most effective inaccurate diagnosis of the ailment.

In addition to physical examination, different blood tests can carry out to confirm or differentiate between different types of arthritis.

Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) is performed mostly to check inflammation in joints.

Specie Normal Range (mm/hr)
Canine 0-5

Value of erythrocyte sedimentation rate is increased in case of arthritis.

Treatment

Arthritis is not curable but various invasive and non-invasive measures are taken to alleviate the pain of animals suffering from arthritis.  The aim of managing arthritis is to minimize joint pain and increase joint flexibility by slowing the degradation of cartilage thus improving the quality of life. 

Weight contributes to arthritis, so overweight dogs can benefit from losing weight. Fewer treats should be given to pets, and reduce portion sizes.

Regular but moderate exercise should be incorporated into the daily routine. Even with arthritis walk and regular exercise strengthens muscles and ligaments of dog, which reduce the risk of injury. Massage and acupuncture are also effective in soothing your old friend. Sometimes laser therapy is also done to help the dog cope with pain and has proved effective.

Conventionally Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) have been used over prolonged periods but studies have shown that these drugs used over a long period have various side effects are therefore discouraged. The use of NSAIDs results in gastrointestinal side effects such as ulcerations, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Most importantly, a visit to your veterinarian will be highly beneficial as he can help you better than anyone else. He can recommend your medication and physical therapy, which will be soothing for older dogs. A veterinarian can also suggest alternative methods like surgery to remove damaged parts of tissue or replace the joint entirely.

Home Adjustments

Some minor changes at home can bring much comfort to your aging friend suffering from arthritis disease. The floor and all those surfaces on which an old dog happens to walk should be non-slippery. Slipping at an advanced age can be very discomforting and can even result in a fracture.

Provide soft and supportive bedding to the dog. Especially thinner dogs should be provided with soft beds otherwise their bones would rub against hard surfaces.

Food, water, and litter box should all be at easily accessible places so that the dog does not have to make much effort to reach them. Climbing the stairs can be difficult and painful for a dog suffering from arthritis. Avoid frequent trips of going up and down the stairs.

 

 

REFERENCES

Vaughn-Scott T, Taylor JH. The pathophysiology and medical management of canine osteoarthritis. J S Africa Assoc. 1997; 68:21-25.

Pettitt RA, German AJ. Investigation and management of canine osteoarthritis. Practice. (2015) 37:1–8. 10.1136/inp.h5763

Johnston SA. Osteoarthritis. Joint anatomy, physiology, and pathobiology. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. (1997) 27:699–723. 10.1016/S0195-5616(97)50076-3

Smith GK, Mayhew PD, Kapatkin AS, McKelvie PJ, Shofer FS, Gregor TP. Evaluation of risk-factors for degenerative joint disease associated with hip-dysplasia in German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Labrador retrievers and Rottweilers. J Am Vet Med Assoc. (2001) 219:1719–24. 10.2460/javma.2001.219.1719

Felson DT, et al. Osteoarthritis: new insights. part 1: the disease and its risk factors. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2000; 133:635–646. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-133-8-200010170-00016.