by Healthy Pet University
If your dog seems lazy, is reluctant to run or play or even get out of bed, especially the day after exercising, he may be suffering from arthritis. Other signs can include stiffness when getting up, limping, obvious pain, reluctance to jump or go up or down stairs, irritability, diminished muscle tone and amount (due to lack of use), loss of appetite (often due to pain or to difficulty reaching down to the bowl to eat), and even fever.
It's easy to dismiss such changes as inevitable signs of aging, but don't assume your dog has arthritis unless your veterinarian has checked him. They could be caused by another problem that needs to be addressed.
About 65 percent of dogs between the ages of 7 and 11 years have some degree of arthritis, with a greater proportion occurring in heavier and larger dogs. But while arthritis is more common in older dogs, it can appear in dogs of almost any age. Very commonly, an injury to a joint will lead to early onset of arthritis in that joint. Canine hip dysplasia often leads to arthritis in the rear and can cause so much pain the dog has difficulty walking. Even some infections and diseases can lead to arthritis.
In some dogs there is no obvious cause. In others abnormal stresses or trauma to the joint can cause degeneration of the joint cartilage and underlying bone. The synovial membrane surrounding the joint becomes inflamed and the bone develops small bony outgrowths called osteophytes. These changes cause the joint to stiffen, become painful, and have decreased range of motion. In cases in which an existing condition is exacerbating the arthritis, surgery to remedy the condition is warranted.
When considering surgery for a joint problem, keep in mind that the more the joint is used in its damaged state, the more arthritis will occur. Even though the surgery may fix the initial problem, if too much damage has occurred the dog will still be plagued with incurable arthritic changes. Prevention of arthritis is the key.
Conservative treatment entails keeping the dog's weight down, attending to injuries, and maintaining a program of exercise. Low impact exercise such as walking or swimming every other day is best for dogs with signs of arthritis. Provide a soft bed with lots of thick padding for sleeping. A warm bed often helps the joints feel better. Massage can also be helpful.
Ask your veterinarian about drugs that can alleviate some of the signs of arthritis. Typically, your veterinarian will prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug made especially for dogs. These drugs reduce inflammation which in turn reduces pain. Do not give your dog human arthritis medications unless your veterinarian has directed you to do so. Some owners are concerned about side effects of certain NSAIDs in dogs, and it's true that some breeds seem predisposed to such problems. This is why they should only be taken under your veterinarian's supervision, possibly with blood testing before and after a few weeks, to make sure no adverse effects are occurring. If such effects are seen, your veterinarian can try another drug. In cases of severe arthritis, it's not fair to the dog to withhold medication out of the fear of adverse effects. Some newer drugs modify the joint fluids and help the joint to heal, but do not provide pain relief. They may be taken in conjunction with NSAIDs.
Supplements, such as polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, may increase the compressive resilience of cartilage and improve the joint condition. Glucosamine stimulates the synthesis of collagen, and also may help rejuvenate cartilage to some extent. Chondroitin sulfate helps to shield cartilage from destructive enzymes. Other popular supplements include perna caniculus, Omega 3 (fish oil), and sometimes creatine. While the effects of these supplements are somewhat controversial, they do no harm and many owners and veterinarians have had good results with them.
Some dog foods, especially prescription brands available from your veterinarian, include supplements that may help improve joint function.
Finally, many owners have found their dogs show fewer signs and seem to feel better when treated with acupuncture.
Watch your dog for signs of arthritis, and don't ignore them. The sooner you can address them, the better you can control them. Your dog will be more comfortable, more active, and happier if his joints don't hurt.