Signs Your Dog May Have Arthritis

Arthritis in dogs is a condition that, much like with people, affects our canine companions as they age. You might notice that your pooch is slowing down or seems less playful than usual, which could be signs of arthritis in your dog. This condition affects your dog’s joints, leading to swelling and pain when she moves, resulting in her lack of motivation to walk and a possible grumpy shift in her personality. If you see these signs, it’s best to bring your pup in for an exam with a veterinarian who can properly diagnose and treat this condition. Read on to discover the signs your dog may have arthritis.

Dog with owner

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects your dog’s joints. In healthy dogs, there is a layer of padding called cartilage between the bones in your dog’s joints. This cartilage, along with joint fluid, helps to ensure that the bone surfaces easily glide over one another. Healthy cartilage and joint fluid keep your pup’s joints working properly, resulting in smooth, pain-free movement. Unfortunately, if this cartilage is damaged, the bones clash against each other with no padding to protect them. This causes more damage and painful swelling of the joints.

Once the cartilage is damaged, new bone grows around the joints, resulting in increased stiffness. This is why arthritis is considered a degenerative condition, because it becomes worse over time. As the condition worsens, your dog will experience pain and stiffness when walking.

Types of Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis primarily affects older dogs. It can also result from an injury or issues with early bone development and hereditary conditions in younger dogs. Dogs can suffer from three types of canine arthritis.

  • Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. It affects your dog’s bones and joints. Osteoarthritis is mostly found in middle-aged and older dogs.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an over-reaction of your dog’s immune system, which starts attacking the body’s own healthy cartilage. This leads to inflammation and joint damage. It can affect dogs of all ages.
  • Septic arthritis results from an infection within the joints, which damages the cartilage. It’s usually caused by a traumatic injury or previous surgery and can affect dogs of all ages.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Wondering how to tell if your dog is sick with arthritis? Dogs with arthritis usually start to slow down and become less playful than usual. Because arthritis is degenerative, you’ll likely notice these signs worsening over time. Dogs with arthritis typically exhibit several symptoms, including:

  • Trouble walking
  • Tiring out easily
  • Limping or favoring one leg over another
  • Snapping or growling when touched
  • A decreased activity level and desire to play
  • Difficulty getting up stairs
  • Difficulty jumping on or down from furniture
  • Pain when walking
  • Licking or biting at her joints
  • Difficulty moving around, especially after sitting for a long period of time
  • Stiffness when walking
  • Joints that feel hot to the touch
  • Fever
  • A decrease in appetite

Remember to go over all of your dog’s symptoms with your vet. Also, certain metabolic and developmental diseases can predispose your dog to arthritis, so make a list of your dog’s current medical conditions.

veterinarian diagnosing arthritis in dogs

How to Tell if Your Dog is Sick with Arthritis

At the first signs of arthritis, get to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a diagnosis. Your vet will be able to properly diagnose your pup with arthritis using a variety of tests. These tests look for medical signs of arthritis.

  1. First, your vet will do is a physical exam of your dog’s joints. He will look for signs of swelling and pain in the soft tissue of her joints. He’ll test the range of motion of the joints. He will also take note of your dog’s breed. Larger breeds like Newfoundlands, German shepherds and Rottweilers are more likely to develop arthritis than others.
  2. Your vet will run a series of blood tests to look for signs of inflammation within the body, a symptom of arthritis in dogs. He will also look for signs of an infection that could be causing the arthritis. In addition, dogs with rheumatoid arthritis may have a chemical in their blood known as “rheumatoid factor.”
  3. Your vet will take X-rays to look for bone and joint damage. He will be able to see changes in the bone, some soft tissue damage, fluid build-up within the joints and other signs of joint problems.
  4. Depending on your dog’s condition, your vet may recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans. These tests can help him examine the joints with more detail than an X-ray can give.
  5. Your vet may extract fluid from within the joints to examine. He will look for changes in its consistency or to see if there is an infection within the joint.

dog with arthritis resting with owner

Treatment for Arthritis in Dogs

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, although there are some medications and treatments that can lessen the pain for your dog and improve her mobility.

  • Glucosamine for dogs and supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin may help your dog. Ingredients like glucosamine for dogs help improve the cartilage between your pup’s joints.
  • To deal with pain, your veterinarian may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs, including carprofen or etodolac, to help decrease the swelling within your dog’s joints. He might also prescribe corticosteroids, which help with inflammation.
  • Your vet may recommend treatments like acupuncture and massage to help with your dog’s joint pain.
  • If your dog is still really uncomfortable, your vet may prescribe a narcotic like hydrocodone or morphine for her. These are very strong medications, so always let your vet know if your pup has any bad reactions to them.
  • For a dog with rheumatoid arthritis, your vet may recommend putting her on medications that suppress her immune system. These medications prevent the immune system from attacking her joints, which may clear up her symptoms.
  • If your dog has septic arthritis, he may give her antibiotics. These drugs will kill off any harmful bacteria in her joints. With the infection gone, the arthritis should go away if her joints are not badly damaged.

dog walking to stay mobile

The Long-Term Prognosis for Dogs with Arthritis

Osteoarthritis will likely get worse over time, but you can do a few things to keep your dog mobile. In addition to giving your dog arthritis medications, dog owners can encourage chubby pups to lose weight.

  • Typically, overweight dogs are more likely to suffer from arthritis because the extra weight puts pressure on their joints. By losing weight, the dogs may feel fewer effects from the arthritis.
  • Swimming, also known as hydrotherapy, is a good way to exercise a dog with arthritis without putting extra pressure on her joints. You’ll find centers that provide this service to dogs in a safe, controlled environment. This will help keep your pooch active and help with weight loss.
  • Slow walks for short distances will keep your pup’s joints mobile. That’s why it’s a good idea to make time for a few walks each day or hire a dog walker who has worked with arthritic dogs to help out when you aren’t available.

By Susan Paretts

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