Does your once spry pooch slowly rise to their feet, or seem stiff and sore after an intense game of fetch? If so, arthritis may be the culprit. The most common canine arthritis type is degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, which affects one in five adult dogs, and as many as 50 percent of senior dogs. With such a high chance that your canine companion will develop osteoarthritis in their lifetime, you should be prepared to identify, manage, and prevent this disease.

An overview of canine osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between a joint’s bones is destroyed. When the joint loses this protective cushion, friction occurs between the bones, causing pain, decreased mobility, and bone spurs. Since cartilage has no nerve supply, damage can progress until the joint becomes severely damaged, and the bone surfaces are no longer protected, before signs are seen. Although osteoarthritis can develop in any joint in your dog’s body, the most commonly affected joints are the elbows, hips, knees, wrists, and lower back. 

What factors contribute to canine osteoarthritis?

Although any dog can develop osteoarthritis, including young dogs, certain factors can increase their risk, including:

  • Normal aging changes
  • Congenital joint disorders (e.g., hip and elbow dysplasia)
  • Old injuries
  • Repeated joint trauma
  • A previously athletic or working dog
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic diseases (e.g., diabetes, Cushing’s disease)

Large- and giant-breed dogs are also most at risk for developing osteoarthritis, in part because more stress is placed on their joints. 

What are osteoarthritis signs in dogs?

Some dogs are so stoic, their joints will have suffered severe deterioration before they show pain. Common osteoarthritis signs in dogs include:

  • Stiffness, lameness, or limping after rest
  • Appetite loss
  • Weight gain
  • Inactivity
  • Reluctance to walk, run, or climb stairs
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Difficulty posturing to urinate and defecate
  • Irritability

If your dog is exhibiting potential osteoarthritis signs, our Tamberly Animal Hospital veterinarian will perform a full physical and orthopedic exam, and discuss their medical history, to reach an accurate diagnosis. Joint X-rays may be needed to determine the damage severity. Once osteoarthritis is diagnosed, the disease can be managed medically or non-medically, but a combination provides the best treatment outcome.

How is canine osteoarthritis non-medically managed?

Non-medical approaches can successfully minimize your dog’s osteoarthritis aches and pains, while reducing the need for medicinal therapy with potential side effects. If your furry pal suffers from osteoarthritis, our veterinarian may recommend a combination of the following non-medical treatments:

  • Weight management — Keeping your dog at their ideal weight is critical for reducing the stress placed on their joints. Excess weight is one of the largest—no pun intended—contributing factors to osteoarthritis development.  
  • Diet — Feeding an appropriate diet—and an appropriate amount—will help your dog maintain a good body condition, while providing optimum nutrition to help support joint health. Diets designed for joint health are typically loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation, and limit cartilage damage.  
  • Exercise — Light to moderate exercise helps keep stiff joints supple and mobile, whereas vigorous activity can further damage joints. Shorter sessions of low-impact exercise like swimming, are more ideal than one long session.  
  • Joint supplements — Many joint supplements are available on the market, but not all are created equal. Search for products with ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and methylsulfonylmethane, to get the most bang for your buck. In addition, choose a well-researched product that has been proven efficient through dietary trials. For help choosing a joint supplement for your dog, contact our Tamberly Veterinary Hospital team.
  • Alternative therapies — Acupuncture, chiropractic care, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, laser therapy, hydrotherapy, physical rehabilitation, massage, and other alternative therapies are excellent methods of reducing osteoarthritis pain in dogs, without the side effects seen with pharmaceutical treatment.

How is canine osteoarthritis medically managed?

Medical arthritis management is aimed at controlling your dog’s pain, increasing mobility, slowing joint degeneration, and encouraging cartilage repair. Options include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — Many prescription NSAIDs can help reduce pain and inflammation in dogs afflicted with osteoarthritis, but these drugs can cause liver and kidney damage. Because of the potential for adverse side effects, we will check your dog’s organ function through blood work before starting an NSAID regimen, and then periodically. 
  • Glucocorticoids — Steroids can be given orally or as injections, but while these drugs have a higher anti-inflammatory effect than NSAIDs, long-term use can cause more serious side effects.
  • Chondroprotectants — These medications help protect cartilage that is attempting to repair itself. 
  • Surgery — Severely damaged joints may benefit from surgery to reduce pain, and improve movement and function. In some cases, the damaged joint may be replaced completely with an artificial version.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s joint damage, any combination of these treatments may be needed to ensure a good quality of life. As the disease progresses, our treatment plan will adapt to your pet’s ever-changing needs, to keep them happy and comfortable.

Is your canine companion stiff and sore after a nap? Maybe your pooch can no longer leap onto the couch. If so, your dog may have developed osteoarthritis, and would benefit from a multimodal treatment plan. Contact our Tamberly Animal Hospital team for an appointment, to help ease your pet’s aches and pains.