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How do I know if my dog has arthritis?

It can be hard to know when our pets aren’t feeling 100%, so it is important to monitor any changes in their behaviour, appetite or energy levels as this may be their way of telling you that something is wrong.

As pets get older, it is normal for them to begin to move less, start sprouting those adorable little grey hairs and just generally slow down.

So how do you know if they are suffering from arthritis, and how can you treat it? We got the low down from Dr Natalia Li, one of our fantastic PETstock vets, who tells us all about how to recognise arthritis and what to do if your dog has arthritis.

What is arthritis?

Like humans, arthritis in dogs is a degenerative disease caused by trauma or damage to the joint, impacted by an abnormality of the joint or abnormal force. These include congenital or genetic deformities and sustained injuries.

When a joint is impacted by one of these injuries, it triggers a series of inflammatory responses that remodel and slowly degrade with the bone matrix at the joint, and this often results in pain, discomfort and lameness. Arthritis is usually graded as acute or chronic, which represents the duration and severity of the disease process.

Acute arthritis has a sudden onset of symptoms and should be treated with fast-acting pain relief, whereas chronic arthritis has long term symptoms and likely progressive and can be treated with other conservative treatments with or without intervention from pain relief, depending on the severity of symptoms.

“Large breeds and sporting breeds can be loaded with a substantial amount of muscle mass, body weight and sustained trauma on joints, and therefore may be more susceptible to arthritis. Any breeds known for their “hunger” and therefore more susceptible to obesity are also predisposed to arthritis. Any breed/dog who are obese due to their lifestyle is also susceptible to arthritis,” says Dr Li.

What are the signs and symptoms of dog arthritis?

If you suspect your dog might be suffering from arthritis, keep an eye out for these warning signs and seek advice from your vet as soon as you start noticing a change. As with many long-term conditions, it is best to act early to slow down the impact it will have on your dog.

  • Difficulty getting up especially in the morning
  • Not being able to jump up onto their bed or couch
  • Stopping frequently on walks
  • Limping
  • Pain or stiffness
  • Yelping when touching an affected joint
  • Drastic change in demeanour (e.g. displays of aggression when usually good-natured)
  • Licking of affected joints

“Any lameness or favouring of certain limb(s) would warrant a veterinary visit, especially if your pet is more reluctant for you to touch the lame leg than usual. More subtle signs of arthritis include stiffness after laying down, difficulty getting up stairs or exercise in general,” advises Dr Li.

Dog arthritis treatment

Arthritis in dogs is a condition that can’t be cured, however, there are several ways it can be managed to slow the progression and ease any pain or discomfort. After scheduling an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your dog’s condition, a multi-targeted management plan can be put into place. This comprehensive plan may include the following:

  • Weight management: managing your furry friend’s weight is the most important aspect of handling their arthritis. An overweight pooch will place more weight on their joints, and this will increase localised inflammation and irritation to the joints. This extra pressure will see a quicker progression of arthritis, increase pain and further limit your dog’s mobility.
  • Exercise: regular exercise is important for your dog, not only to keep the joints mobile and surrounding muscles working but to help maintain a healthy weight, in addition to a healthy diet
  • Home comfort/environmental changes: in less severe cases, some small changes can be made at home to aid in the reduction of your dog’s pain and discomfort. These include a warm, comfy bed with extra padding away from any drafts, accessibility ramps and raised bowls.
  • Veterinary treatments: depending on the severity of your dog’s condition, there is a range of methods your veterinarian may suggest managing your dog’s arthritis, these can include injections, anti-inflammatory drugs, supplements or surgery.
  • Alternative remedies: some alternatives to more clinical methods of maintenance include, physical therapy, acupuncture, heat packs, and massage.

Old dog lying down with his head over his paw

How can I make my dog more comfortable?

There are a few things you can do to make your dog more comfortable if they are suffering from arthritis.

Keep them warm in winter

If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis it is important to keep them warm, especially during winter. This is because cold joints are more stiff and painful to move than a nice warm joint. You can keep your dog warm in cold weather by keeping them indoors, providing nice warm bedding, fitting them with a warm comfy jacket and turning the heater on.

There are many ways to keep protect your pooch from the cold, follow the link below for some handy hints.

Seven tips to protect your pooch this winter

Provide a nice comfy bed to alleviate pressure

Thick, soft bedding with plenty of support is ideal for arthritic dogs and we recommend beds with a memory foam mattress. Place these on the floor as elevated beds can be difficult to get up onto for older dogs.

If your dog sleeps in a kennel outside, ensure the mattress inside the kennel has sufficient support and some cosy blankets to keep your buddy warm. Ideally, the kennel should be located in a sheltered spot out of the elements to avoid the bedding becoming wet from directional rain or from your dog walking in and out.

You can also provide a patio bed in a nice sunny spot to avoid them laying on the cold concrete during the day. These beds keep them up off the ground and relieve pressure on their joints from hard surfaces.

Modify lifestyle and routine as required

For dogs who sleep on a family member’s bed, you may notice them having trouble climbing up and getting down from high places. This is due to additional stress being placed on their inflamed joints when jumping. "You can help alleviate this by lifting them up onto the bed, or if they are too heavy to lift, provide some dog stairs to help them climb up and down from furniture easily", says Dr Hay.

Should I exercise my dog that has arthritis?

“Exercise is still encouraged for a dog with arthritis to maintain muscle mass and strength to support the joints; however, low intensity and steady-paced walks are preferred. They would also benefit from warming up before vigorous exercise,” says Dr Li.

Bodyweight and condition are major factors in determining the onset of arthritis. A fit and regularly exercised dog can develop arthritis at a geriatric age, while an obese dog who’s confined to a backyard most of their life can begin to develop the disease in early to middle age.

Gentle, regular exercise is important and beneficial to an arthritic as it helps your dog maintain a healthy weight, with overweight dogs likely to suffer more pain from arthritis, as the extra weight applies more pressure to stiff joints, so keeping your dog at their ideal weight will help ease this extra pressure and will lower pain.

Regular exercise will help build and maintain muscle strength. This helps support bones and joints while increasing blood flow to the joints. On the other hand, hyperactive or working breeds who receive high-intensity exercise more often can benefit from joint supplements before the onset of arthritis in addition to more gentle exercise.

Need help managing your dog’s diet and exercise? Learn more about it here!

Diet & exercise tips for your dog

Jack Russell sleeping in the arms of its owner

What food should I feed my dog with arthritis?

As with many ailments, a good diet can help manage symptoms and ease pain by providing specific nutrients. If your dog has arthritis, chat to your vet about changing them onto a prescription diet designed specifically for arthritis. Your vet will be able to talk you through the options and recommend a diet that is best for your dog. Many joint support diets contain Omega 3 fatty acids and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) to nourish cartilage, as well as antioxidants to support a healthy immune system. They are also designed to help your dog maintain a healthy weight.

Alternatively, you may decide to try additional supplements such as the PAW Osteocare Joint Chews or the Rose-Hip Vital Joint Formula. These joint care formulas have been specifically designed to deliver additional nutrients aimed at improving joint health and can be of benefit to pets who have arthritis.

What your vet can do for you and your dog that has arthritis?

Remember, if you think your dog is suffering from arthritis it is important to visit your vet so t they can assess your dog and rule out any other serious problems that may be causing the joint pain. They will be able to advise you on the best diet, exercise regime, bedding and clothing for your dog. Furthermore, a vet can also recommend a course of arthritis injections and pain relief tablets if needed.

Vets can prescribe many management options, including medical management, including a tailored plan for your dog, joint supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, fish oils and glucosamine, or prescription diets.

To learn more about arthritis in dogs or have your dog assessed, find your nearest PETstock VET.


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