Managing canine osteoarthritis is not an easy job. We put the accent on the word manage, and cure is not possible.
However, as devastating as the diagnosis, there is a silver lining – with the right approach, dogs with degenerative joint disease can lead relatively normal lives.
If you want to help your dog suffering from arthritis, keep reading. This article will reveal some efficient and straightforward tips for managing arthritis in dogs.
What is Arthritis and How Does It Affect Your Dog’s Life?
Arthritis or osteoarthritis is the most common degenerative disease affecting the dog’s joints. Statistics show that one in five dogs will eventually develop arthritis.
In simple words, arthritis means inflammation of joints. The condition has a progressing nature, and once the arthritic changes begin, they cannot be reversed, only managed.
Joint Changes in Arthritic Dogs
In a normal, healthy joint, the place where two bones touch each other is covered with a thin layer of cartilage. The cartilage acts like a shock absorber that prevents friction between two bone surfaces.
Plus, the thin layer of cartilage is lubricated with a so-called synovial fluid that allows the joints to glide smoothly.
In dogs with arthritis, the shock-absorbing cartilage is damaged, and when the joint moves, the two bones produce friction. The friction causes inflammation and wears out the bone surfaces, and they respond by growing new bone formations (bone spurs).
This cascade of arthritic changes lead to joint pain and limited mobility. Because of the pain many physical limitations arise. Consequently, the dog’s quality of life declines.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
Dogs suffering from arthritis show the following signs and symptoms:
- Limping or lameness
- Stiff walk (more pronounced after rest and strenuous activity)
- Enlarged, swollen, and painful joints
- Decreased mobility
- Reluctance to run, jump, or play
- Excessive joint licking or chewing (saliva stains)
- Muscle atrophy
- Increased irritability and behavioral changes.
Many dogs do not show any signs or symptoms until severe arthritic changes develop. This is because cartilage lacks nerves and its damage does not trigger pain during the early stages. Plus, dogs are very good at hiding pain.
What Causes Degenerative Joint Disease in Dogs?
Arthritis or degenerative joint disease in dogs develops as a result of:
- Natural wear and tear. That is why arthritis is associated with old age
- Genetics. Certain dog breed are born with a higher than average risk of developing arthritis (Labrador Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds)
- Abnormally shaped bone and/or cartilage. Dogs with hip and elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament rupture are more likely to develop arthritis later on in life
- Injury and disease. Traumatic injuries and certain infectious diseases (Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Valley fever) trigger arthritic changes in the dog’s joints.
How Long Can a Dog Live with Arthritis?
Although generally associated with senior dogs, as a degenerative condition arthritis can also young dogs and even puppies.
Arthritis in dogs is not a death sentence. However, how long a dog can live with arthritis depends on the provided care and support quality. In addition to the life length, these factors are also critical in determining the dog’s quality of life.
When managing an arthritic dog, providing proper care and support goes beyond regular checkups with your vet. Managing a dog with arthritis includes:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Serving the proper diet and joint supplements
- Providing an individually tailored exercise regimen
- Ensuring comfort.
Finding the Right Treatment for Your Dog’s Arthritis
There are several treatment options for a dog suffering from arthritis. Talk to your veterinarian which treatment is best for your arthritic dog.
The vet will decide the best approach for your dog based on several factors, including your dog’s age, overall health, and x rays of the affected joints.
Joint pain relief and inflammation reduction are the main goals of the medical support for arthritic dogs.
Non Steroid Anti Inflammatory Drugs
Non steroid anti inflammatory drugs are the first treatment of choice for dogs with arthritis. However, long term use of NSAIDs is linked with certain side effects. To monitor your dog’s reaction to this therapy, the vet will recommend regular blood works and checkups. If you notice any unusual signs in your dog call your vet immediately.
Steroid Anti Inflammatory Drugs
Steroids (cortisone) can be used for the same purpose as NSAIDs. In general they are a bit stronger but also associated with more severe side effects. You must never give your dog NSAIDs and steroids together.
If the previously mentioned drugs do not provide the wanted pain relief, talk to your veterinarian about other options. Your dog may benefit from something stronger like gabapentin or opioids (for example tramadol).
According to a study, injecting opioids into the joint in dogs with arthroscopic knee surgery provides long-lasting analgesia.
If your dog’s arthritic pain cannot be managed conventionally, you should consider surgical alternatives. The osteoarthritis treatment plan can be based on different surgical approaches, including:
- Arthroscopic surgery (removal of the accumulated cartilage debris)
- Artificial joint replacement surgery
- Joint fusion
Your dog may benefit a lot from holistic arthritis therapy options like:
Enriching the diet with natural ingredients with anti inflammatory properties is also advised. Popular choices include:
- Green lipped mussels
- Eggshell membrane
- Boswellia serrata
- Fish or coconut oil
Prolong Your Dog’s Life – Training Them to Live with Arthritis
As already mentioned, arthritis in dogs cannot be cured or treated, it can only be slowed down and managed. Here are the basic concepts of teaching your dog to live with arthritis.
One way of managing arthritis in dogs is through a proper diet. The right food has several roles:
- To keep your dog within its optimal body weight range
- To provide all necessary nutrients and boost the immune system
- To manage inflammatory processes (contain natural anti inflammatories).
The clinical manifestation of arthritis is worse in obese dogs. This is because the extra pounds put additional and unnecessary pressure to the already diseased joints.
Therefore, you need to give your dog the right diet and provide enough exercise so it can stay lean.
If your dog is obese and needs to lose weight, ask your vet about weight loss tips and instructions. Arthritic dogs need individually tailored weight loss regimens considering their joints cannot handle the stress regular exercise regimens exert.
To relieve your dog’s joint pain you can provide mobility support. There are different mobility support options. Which one is best for your dog depends on the type of arthritis it has.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Back brace. Promotes stability and offers back reinforcement for dogs with spinal arthritis
- Hip brace. For dogs with hip dysplasia and hip joint arthritis.
- Lifting harness. To enhance the walk in dogs with leg weakness and stiffness due to arthritis
- Pet wheelchair. Improves mobility by supporting the hind legs.
Joint supplements are not an alternative to medications. They need to be used in a combination with other treatment approaches and do not have the same efficiency in all dogs.
The modern pet market offers many different supplements that promote well-functioning joints, including:
Vital for joint health because it is the main building block of cartilage and promotes new cartilage formation.
Prevents enzymatic cartilage damage and is often used in conjugation with glucosamine.
Provides stiffness relief and manages joint inflammation.
Promotes joint cartilage formation and rebuilding.
- omega 3 fatty acids – two types of omega 3 fatty acids are particularly important for arthritic dogs (EPA, DHA) because they help manage inflammation by reducing pain and swellings.
- cetyl myristoleate – it is a natural fatty acid found in pets and it helps with arthritis because of its anti inflammatory properties and ability to lubricate the joints.
This natural herbal supplement can be very helpful when managing arthritis in dogs because it:
- Supports joint health and flexibility
- Provides connective tissue support
- Helps maintain a normal inflammatory response in the body
- Can help reduce joint discomfort
- Eases joint stiffness due to normal daily exercise and activity
- Provides connective tissue reinforcement
- May help discomfort associated with normal daily exercise and activity.
During the early phases keeping the arthritic joints moving helps with the stiffness and pain. However, the exercise should not be strenuous.
Several shorter walks are recommended over one longer walk. For example, if you used to take your dog for one 40-minute long walk, once arthritis sets in, opt for two 20-minute long walks.
When exercising your arthritic dog be mindful about the terrain as walking on uneven grounds can worsen the condition.
The management of arthritis in dogs is impossible without adequate environmental assistance. You need to make the environment as friendly as possible to your dog’s joints. This includes:
- Covering the slippery floors in your house (if you cannot cover all surfaces limit your dog’s access)
- Installing ramp and/or steps
- Providing a comfortable, orthopedic dog bed
- Using elevated food and water bowls
Our Final Thoughts
Canine arthritis is not a life-threatening diagnosis, but it is definitely a devastating one. That is primarily because the condition cannot be cured; once the joint structures are compromised and arthritic changes begin, they cannot be reversed. Therefore, you can only manage a dog suffering from arthritis. The good news is managing arthritis in dogs is possible. It is not easy, but it is possible. How long your dog can live with arthritis depends on you and the grade of supportive care you provide. With the right approach, a dog with arthritis can live a long and happy life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does arthritis shorten a dog’s life?
Canine osteoarthritis does not directly shorten the dog’s life but it seriously affects its quality. However, with the right management, dogs can live long and quality lives.
Is arthritis a reason to put a dog down?
Unless there are severe complications or the joint pain cannot be managed, arthritis is not a reason to put a dog down. More often than not, canine arthritis is a manageable condition. Talk to your trusted veterinarian about your dog’s options and what to expect in the long term.
When is it time to euthanize a dog with arthritis?
Euthanasia should be considered if the arthritis is seriously affecting the dog’s everyday activities. Common signs include unmanageable pain, panting, inability to stand to move, and elimination in the house.
How do I know if my dog is in pain from arthritis?
Common signs of pain due to arthritis in dogs reluctance to move, decreased stamina and playfulness, stiffness of the joints, limping or lameness, yelping when touched, irritability and muscle atrophy.