Not many dog owners will realize their dog has arthritis until a vet tells them. Your dog may not be able to communicate to you that he has joint pain, but if you’re aware of the signs and pay attention to your dog, you’ll be able to figure it out pretty easily.
Read on to find out more about arthritis in dogs, the signs of arthritis your dog may exhibit and what you can do to help him with the pain.
Some Information About Dog Arthritis
As it does in humans, arthritis commonly develops in older dogs, which is a type of arthritis referred to as osteoarthritis. Now there are many types of arthritis, and they can develop in dogs of any age, but osteoarthritis is by far the most common type and usually only occurs in senior dogs.
Osteoarthritis occurs due to pet obesity or joint injuries. Obesity causes overloading of the joints, and thus will usually affect weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, shoulders & back). This doesn’t happen overnight – it will take years of obesity to cause the joint overloading that results in arthritis. Joint injuries, on the other hand, can result from aggressive play or accidents. It may be repeated, low-grade injuries (like frequently jumping from heights to land on a hard surface) or a single, large injury (like getting hit by a car). These injuries will destroy the cartilage surrounding the joint, which can cause arthritis years after the injury.
While this article is written specifically as a guide for osteoarthritis, all types of arthritis will have similar signs in your dog and most of the treatment options detailed below focus on pain reilef, and will work for any type of arthritis.
How To Tell If Your Dog Has Arthritis – The Signs
The joints commonly affected by arthritis are the neck, back (spine), hips & knees in the hind leg, shoulders & elbows in the front leg, and the paw joints.
Less mobility. You might notice that your dog seems “lazy” and no longer climbs the stairs or hops up onto the couch. Activities he used to enjoy like playing fetch and running are a thing of the past. When he lies down, it’s usually with a groan. You might notice a limp if the arthritis is confined to a single front or hind leg.
Posture. If your dog has arthritis in his back (spine), he’ll hunch over with his head down, as this position is less painful. If you pick him up then put him down, he might stay in the position he landed in for a while before slowly lying down.
Low energy and/or irritability. Being in constant pain, your pet may no longer be so cheerful. He might not eat regularly, causing low energy and possibly weight loss; he may snap at you if you try to pet him or pick him up, as this will aggravate the pain.
If you have an elderly dog and notice these signs in him, the chances are high that he has arthritis. However, please make sure to confirm the diagnosis with a vet.
Natural Treatment Options For Dog Arthritis
Weight loss – as mentioned above, chronic obesity is a significant contributor to arthritis. A dog that already has arthritis will benefit significantly from weight loss as it will decrease the load on his joints. Note that there are safe and unsafe ways to put your dog on a diet, so please consult your vet to discuss weight loss options for your dog.
A healthy diet. A grain-free diet will not only help with weight loss, but may have a direct effect on the arthritis itself. Grains, potatoes (not sweet potatoes), tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are all known to aggravate arthritis. Foods that help to ease arthritis are: celery, ginger, alfalfa and fruits such as mango & papaya. Some have claimed benefits from a raw diet, but this is still controversial.
Exercise. Regular, low-impact exercise (such as walking, not running) has been proven to greatly help with the pain & immobility of arthritis. While the exercise regimen should be planned in coordination with a vet, this is a daily routine you and your dog can accomplish in and around your home. One great option is swimming – it’s non-weight-bearing and the colder temperature of water will have direct pain relief effects on your dog’s joints! Some notes of caution: let your dog set the tone and pace of the exercise, you may encourage but don’t push him to over-exercise; and don’t stop your dog’s exercise regimen abruptly.
Keep him warm. You may apply a warm compress directly to the joints 2-3x a day for pain relief (careful that it’s only warm, not too hot). Other ways to keep your dog warm: sweaters, blankets or increasing the heat in your home. Yes, both cold and heat can be used for pain relief.
Massages. A proper massage done regularly will stimulate blood flow to the arthritic joints, helping with the pain and immobility over time. A canine massage therapist will be able to provide the maximum benefit of a massage, but some gentle strokes around the joints done a few times a day by you at home will also provide benefit & comfort.
Joint supplements. There are natural substances such as omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil) and Vitamin E that decrease joint inflammation, and there are organic substances such as glucosamine, chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) that protect the joint. All of these are safe for your dog, but you should still consult a vet before starting any of these products.
Medications For Dog Arthritis
Steroids. Steroids can be injected directly into the joint for quick pain relief or taken by mouth over a short period of time when there is significant pain due to arthritis. However, steroids are very potent drugs, and can have serious side effects such as stomach ulcers and diabetes, especially if used for a prolonged period (over 2 weeks). For this reason, the DOGPWND strongly recommends any steroid use be done in close conjunction with a trusted vet.
NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These drugs are used for pain relief and although they are safe when used properly, they are still quite potent drugs. It’s best that a vet supervises the use of this drug, especially on older dogs, who may be prone to the side effects of these drugs (stomach ulcers, kidney failure).
Other Tips For Managing Dog Arthritis
- Keep water & food bowls in an elevated position. This will be helpful for dogs suffering from arthritis of the neck.
- Maintain soft surfaces around the house, by using carpets in all areas your dog frequently lounges, and a soft bed in a warm area to sleep. This will decrease the impact on your dog’s joints, and also cushion the blow if your dog falls, as older dogs with advanced arthritis may do.
- Keep nails trimmed. Long nails may curl over time, causing pain in your dog’s paw joints and ultimately altering his gait; this may aggravate arthritis. (Read how to clip your dog’s nails at home)
- Use a dog ramp. Going up or down stairs, getting into or out of a car, using a dog ramp will make it easier for dogs who have less advanced arthritis and are still able to walk on their own.