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Just like their human parents, many older dogs are affected by arthritis.
My dogs Casey,13, and Riley, 9, are no exception. After a lifetime of extreme Frisbee for Casey, and a lack of proper nutrition as a puppy for rescue Riley, they both have developed arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, approximately a quarter of all dogs are affected. These numbers may be higher in older dogs.
What is Osteoarthritis?
OA is a disease that affects multiple joints. In younger dogs, the joints are protected by cartilage, a protective layer between the bones that helps the bones slide smoothly during movement.
Arthritis is caused by a wearing down of the protective cartilage at the end of bones, as well as the bones themselves. As the cartilage wears down the bones rub together causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.
This abnormal rubbing together of the bone can also cause more bone growth as the joint tries to protect itself, known as bone spurs.
The most common joints affected in dogs are hips, elbows, lower back, knees, and wrists.
Some other factors that can contribute to the severity of arthritis in dogs include:
- Obesity, which increases the weight on the joints and stresses them further
- Breed - larger breeds have more arthritis than smaller dogs
- Lyme disease
- Trauma to the joints from repeated use
- Hip dysplasia - when the joint doesn't develop correctly
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
There can be many signs and symptoms of arthritis in dogs, some more obvious than others. Check out the infographic below for some of the common signs.
One of the more unexpected signs you may not understand right away is sudden aggression toward people or other dogs. Playing with other dogs or even just being petted by you may cause your dog joint pain that causes them to suddenly snap or yelp.
Other signs may be weight gain caused by less exercise, depression, house soiling, or sleeping more than usual.
What Is The Treatment For Dog Arthritis?
The first step in treatment is to visit your veterinarian. Your vet will do a physical exam, ask you about changes in your dog's behavior or habits. They may do an x-ray, or in certain cases an MRI.
After a thorough exam, your vet may make recommendations for pain medication, over the counter joint supplements, or exercise strategies.
For example with Riley, who loves to chase the tennis ball thrown from a Chuck-It, the vet recommended just decreasing the number of times he chases it rather than taking it away altogether. She knew it was something he loves, and that reducing this activity rather than eliminating it would help decrease his joint pain but still allow him to do his favorite activity.
Your veterinarian may give you steps you can take at home such as:
- Weight Management - make sure your dog maintains a normal weight to reduce stress on joints
- Exercise - continue to provide your dog with exercise that is gentle on their joints such as walking or swimming to help with weight management, maintain body conditioning, and loosen stiff joints
- Comfortable Bedding - give your dog a bed with soft but firm support such as an orthopedic dog bed discussed here
- Follow your veterinarian's recommendations for pain relief medications and physical rehab
What Do I Give My Dogs?
As I mentioned earlier, both Casey and Riley have arthritis. Casey has a particularly painful wrist, as well as in her spine. Riley has hip dysplasia which has caused arthritis in his hip.
Obviously, not all medications will work the same for all dogs. Please have your veterinarian examine your dog to determine his or her exact needs.
Our veterinarian has prescribed liquid Meloxicam for Casey. Meloxicam is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body. She is 13-years-old and takes it on a daily basis.
The vet prescribed Rimadyl tablets for Riley. Rimadyl is another NSAID used for pain and inflammation. Riley only takes a tablet when he overdoes exercise and we notice him limping or more stiff than usual.
We also give our dogs over the counter medications, with the approval of our veterinarian, to help improve the dogs joint function.
Both dogs take fish oil capsules. According to Amy Karon, DVM, "Compared with mineral oil, fish oil supplementation for three months significantly improved objective measures of pain, lameness, and joint disease in dogs with osteoarthritis, according to a randomized, double-blind, multicenter trial."
Fish oil has an anti-inflammatory effect in the joints of dogs (and humans too!). We just buy the same kind made for humans at any local retailer or online per our veterinarian.
Some non-veterinary formulated supplements may not be appropriate for your dog, they can even be harmful – please contact your veterinarian whenever using such supplements to make sure they are appropriate for your dog.
I also give Casey and Riley Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM soft chews.
Dasuquin contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM, a naturally occurring, organic, sulfur-containing compound. It comes in formulas for small/medium and large dogs.
It's designed to stimulate cartilage production, protect cartilage, and support joint function. We've noticed good results using it, especially for Riley as his arthritis isn't as severe yet.
While arthritis can't be cured, there are many steps we as pet parents can take to make our babies as comfortable as possible while maintaining a good quality of life.
Helping your dog maintain a normal weight, regular low-impact exercise, a comfortable sleeping environment, and possibly medications recommended by your veterinarian can keep your pup on the move for life!
If you're looking for a more restful night for your fur baby, then make sure to read our post on choosing the right bed for your dog's sleep style for another way to make your pup's life a little comfier.
For low impact exercises your older dog will LOVE, you can also check out our post on interactive dog puzzle toys.
If you're looking for a way to check in on your older fur baby while you're at work, you'll want to read about how you can decrease anxiety for you and your pup with a dog camera at home.
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