Many older dogs develop arthritis, and just like us, if they do have the condition, they endure joint stiffness, pain and discomfort. So how do we spot arthritis and what can we do to help our canine friends?
What is arthritis and what are the symptoms?
As our dogs age, it is quite common for the cartilage in their joints to deteriorate and as the cartilage cells die, they release enzymes that cause inflammation in the joint, increasing friction and causing pain and stiffness. Eventually it can cause bony growths and deterioration in the bones of the joint.
The joint stiffness is painful, so a dog might lick painful joints, find it difficult to jump or move quickly, and become lame and inactive. This inactivity can lead to muscle wasting and more problems with movement. Jumping up onto a favourite chair or into the car can become problematic, and if it’s an effort for your dog to get up to go out for a wee, and he loses interest in his walks, he could be in pain and you should take him to your vet for a check-up.
Young dogs can develop arthritis due to genetic joint abnormalities, which are sometimes seen in pure breed dogs. It can also occur following ligament injury or trauma to a joint, so if you spot any of these symptoms in your younger dog, get them checked by a vet too.
It is important that your vet gives you a confirmed diagnosis as there are several other conditions that could result in similar symptoms. The vet will want to examine your dog, manipulate their joints and may order x rays and other tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible conditions.
What are the treatment options?
Your vet will discuss a treatment plan with you and it is important to only treat your dog with the drugs your vet prescribes. Never be tempted to buy drugs online or over the counter without your vet’s prescription.
Canine anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) can work well but can have serious side effects in some cases. Your vet should talk to you about the possible side effects to watch out for, and they may check your dog has normal liver and kidney function before prescribing them.
There are other, more expensive but effective drugs called PSGAG’s which can aid cartilage repair. The treatment usually involves an initial treatment plan and then regular boosters.
They may also recommend dietary supplements such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin or omega 3 fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties and may help.
Having comprehensive pet insurance can help cover the cost of diagnosis and ongoing treatments. However, it is important to make sure you understand what your policy covers and what it doesn’t cover, and if there are any age restrictions. Buying the best cover you can afford can help you to give your dog the care they deserve without having to make any difficult decisions about the cost.
Tips on what to do at home to make an arthritic dog more comfortable
There are some simple changes that can be made at home to ease your dog’s discomfort, too. Here are our suggestions:
- Provide a comfortable bed in a warm spot. Damp and cold can increase the joint pain so make sure they have a warm bed out of draughts.
- Secure rugs on hard floors and provide ramps to get into the car. Skidding on loose rugs on hard floors can hurt their joints so making sure rugs are secured is a good idea. Climbing into the car can become painful but you can buy ramps to help them climb into the car or up steps more easily.
- Maintain exercise and keep their weight down. Exercise is important to keep their joints moving and prevent muscle wasting so continue their walks, but let them move at their own pace and for as long as is comfortable for them. Shorter, more frequent walks might work better than longer, less frequent outings. You could also try to exercise them on softer surfaces by taking them to a park rather than walking them on pavements. It’s also important to minimise the load on their joints so make sure you are feeding them a high quality diet and you keep them at an ideal weight.
- Consider alternative therapies. Acupuncture works well for animals as well as humans so consider finding a canine acupuncture practitioner. Your vet should be able to recommend someone or you can find a vet practitioner on the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists website. Swimming is also a great form of exercise that doesn’t put strain on the joints so if your vet agrees it is appropriate, find your nearest Canine Hydrotherapy Centre. Some Pet Insurance policies coves alternative therapies so check with your insurer to see if they would help with the costs.
By working with our vets and pet insurance company we can do quite a bit to make our dog’s more comfortable and able to enjoy their life despite their arthritis.