Arthritis and Dogs

Did you know that one out of five adult pets in the United States suffer from one form or another of arthritis?

We have approximately 80 million cats and dogs living in our homes and considering that number we have a great many suffering pets. Pets that have no real way of letting us know that they hurt.

This knowledge is actually “food for thought” when it comes to changes in behavior patterns of our senior pets.

Pain certainly causes our behavior to change in many ways; we get grumpy, snarl, lash out at others and just plain complain.

Our pets cannot talk, but some do actually change their behavior and this is when “knowing your pet” is important. By knowing your pet, it is possible to tell if only by observation that something is amiss and a possible trip to the vet is necessary.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is joint inflammation and degeneration. It is a general term for abnormal changes in a joint.

Many things can cause arthritis such as; an infection that can cause tissue destruction, congenital defects, stress and trauma and even a lack of certain nutrients in a pet’s diet.

Some researchers feel it is a hereditary disposition, or it can be attributed to aging, excessive weight and genetic abnormalities that produce the cartilage.

Are there different types of arthritis?

There are several types of arthritis caused by different types of situations:

  • Traumatic arthritis shows up as a swelling or lameness usually caused by an accident or fall and may require surgery,
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is caused when your pet’s immune system attacks the joint or joints. The cause of this is still unknown.
  • Hypertrophic arthritis is caused by the formation of bone spurs that grow causing the joints to not move smoothly. The joints feel like they are being poked by something sharp. It is very painful to both dogs and humans. It is usually caused by a trauma to the joint or joints.
  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is the most common form of arthritis, which is the breakdown in the cartilage cushion in the joints. This can cause intermittent pain for the pet. It is a slow progressive disease.
  • Hip dysplasia is a form of osteoarthritis. Hip dysplasia is the abnormal development of the hips, which results in an increasing amount of looseness in the hip joint. Dogs can suffer from degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis) that is not caused by hip dysplasia or they can suffer with it because they have hip dysplasia.

    These are just a few of the different forms of arthritis that exist.

    What are some of the subtle symptoms to look for:

  • In smaller dogs, a whimper or growl when picked up or handled.
  • A lack of motivation to move.
  • Stiffness when walking, getting up or down.
  • Avoiding getting up on the bed, couch, chair or climbing stairs.
  • Hiding or disappearing out of sight.
  • Whining or crying for what appears to be no reason at all.
  • Changes in behavior patterns.
  • Sleeping more than usual.

    What are some of the contributing causes?

    Overweight: One of the major causes of degenerative joint disease (DJD) is a dog being overweight. The excessive weight puts a great deal of stress on the joints. This is especially true if your dog is predisposed to hip dysplasia or has the problem. Keeping your dog’s weight at what is normal for its breed is important, along with making certain your dog is getting all the proper nutrients its body requires.

    Proper exercise: If your dog is predisposed to hip dysplasia limit its exercise to long walks, swimming, and very short runs. Do not put excess pressure on your dog’s limbs.

    The same is true with puppies, do not exercise your young puppy by making it jump or do any exercise that puts stress on its young bones. If you do, the dog may pay for it, as it grows older with DJD.

    Agility training should be done for short periods of time and with a warm up period before starting the exercises.

    Diet: It may be hard to believe, but diet plays an important part in a possible avoidance of arthritis, not only in our pets, but for us also. A diet that is rich in the Omega 3 fatty acids plays an extremely important part in warding off some causes of arthritis. There are substances that all mammals (pets and people) need to make their bodies function properly, that are not manufactured by the body and the Omega 3 fatty acids are needed to carry out this job. So be certain that your pet gets an ample supply either from the food it eats or from a good supplement.

    Treatment: Before taking any steps in treating your pet, always consult your animal care practitioner. Be wary of over the counter adult human treatments, as not all can be used on dogs.

    Cats can suffer from arthritis as well as dogs. Cats require special consideration as their physical makeup requires only certain types of medication. Do not give a cat any aspirin or other types of over the counter drugs.

    There are nutritional supplements on the market made especially for cats and dogs that can be given on a daily basis that will help maintain a healthy joint system from young to senior cats and dogs.

    It is said that liquid products are better than pills as the liquid gets into the blood stream faster to do its work. That is fine if you can get your pet to cooperate and your pet is willing to take the dose without waste. For most of us pills seem to be easier, with the exception of cats – I find an eyedropper and liquid easier here.

    Before doing any “self prescribed” medicating for your pet, always get the advice of your pet’s vet or animal care practitioner.

    One of the first things to consider when your pet starts showing signs of arthritis is to begin giving a supplement of glucosamine and chondroitin. This supplement helps, by not only helping to reduce symptoms, but helps to rebuild the cartilage and restore fluid. There are many brands on the market, find one that also has MSM in it. You may have to try several before you find the right one for your pet.

    Some say eliminating grains from a dog’s diet helps enough, that nothing more needs to be done. While others claim white potatoes, tomatoes, egg plant and peppers aggravate an arthritic condition.

    There are many anti-inflammatory supplements on the market with the omega 3 fish oils being a leading contender. Be certain not to use “liver oil,” as that is very high in vitamins A and D. If you decide to use the fish oils be certain to also give your pet vitamin E as the fish oils deplete vitamin E from the body.

    Acupuncture and chiropractic treatments also work in some cases with pets.

    Warmth is also an added plus, sleeping on concrete or a cold floor will only add to your dog’s misery.

    There are many insulated dog beds on the market and some that can be heated. Just be certain the cords cannot be chewed,

    Dogs with arthritis can live long and healthy lives with a little help from their friends and as a dog owner you owe it to your pet to be as helpful as you can be.