Arthritis is something that many believe is reserved for the older, ‘wiser’ dogs that have lived a highly active lifestyle. Or, that arthritis is only for the large breed dogs… but these assumptions could not be further from the truth!
Lifestyle and genetics both play a part in determining if a dog will suffer from arthritis, starting with how active he is to the quality of food that you feed.
Joint problems are common in dogs and affects each at varying degrees. Some dogs will only be affected by minor annoyances, while others will be in severe pain and unable to walk.
The Arthritis Foundation have released information stating that approximately 20% of all adult dogs have arthritis. That equates to around 1 in 5, however, if your dog is senior (over 7 years of age), there is a 65% chance that he is already suffering from the disease. In short, more than half of all senior dogs have arthritis.
WHAT MAKES UP A JOINT?
Joints are made up from a combination of ligaments, synovial fluid and cartilage. To maintain a strong joint it requires a healthy combination of all three. As our pets grow it is natural for their joints to become worn and tired, just like our own. It is important to remember that if your dog does start showing signs of arthritis, to begin alleviating and supporting his joints as soon as possible.
WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints and is a common problem for many dogs.
In a normal healthy joint, a dogs bone surfaces are covered with a thin layer of cartilage that is extremely smooth, combined with the synovial fluid, this perfect match is designed to allow the two surfaces to glide freely over one another with minimum friction. In dogs suffering from arthritis, the cartilage within the joint undergoes change or damage, causing the surfaces to become less smooth. This results in the bones surfaces rubbing together, creating discomfort as well as further damage to the cartilage.
Due to the increased friction, new bone start to form around the joint in an attempt to make the joint stiffer, which in turn limits its movement even more. This is a condition known as degenerative joint disease.
Degenerative Joint Disease is also known as Osteoarthritis and is one form of arthritis (inflammation of the joints).
TYPES OF ARTHRITIS?
There are three main types of arthritis and each vary in degree of pain, cause and treatment. Osteoarthritis is the most common form seen in dogs today and is the type of arthritis that I am focusing on in this article. However, I do believe it is important for you to understand the differences between each form of arthritis and how to identify if your dog is in the early stages of the disease.
WHAT IS IT?
Osteoarthritis is the progressive and permanent long term deterioration of cartilage surrounding the joints. The medical term for inflamed joints is arthritis, where as the name osteoarthritis is a term referring to a form of chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of the joint cartilage. Older dogs are at the highest risk of this often permanent condition.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
If osteoarthritis is present, the following are common signs and symptoms you will see:
- Pain with movement
- Slow to get up and move around after first rising, after long exercise or in cold weather
- Reluctance to walk
- Licking of the painful joints
- A change in personality
As osteoarthritis can be permanent, the most common treatments are aimed at alleviating the symptoms. Surgery can provide some relief if the degeneration is severe enough to warrant it. But, prior to this, light exercise, physical therapy, rest, weight loss (if necessary), and the correct use of natural supplements is the key to reducing its side effects and supporting the joint to heal.
WHAT IS IT?
Septic arthritis occurs when bacteria or other infectious agent is somehow introduced into one or more joints, leading to painful inflammation. While any dog can develop this condition, it is most often seen in medium to large dogs, aged between 4-7 years of age.
Bacteria that can survive and grow in the presence and absence of oxygen, along with fungal organisms can all cause septic arthritis.
There are some scenarios that are known to increase the risks of septic arthritis, including, diseases and medications that suppress the immune system, trauma and surgery that involves the joint, osteoarthritis or other injury to the joint.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
If septic arthritis is present, the following are common signs and symptoms you will see:
- Heat on the joint/s
- Swelling of joint/s
- Painful joint/s
- Decreased range of motion
- Lack of appetite
Dogs suffering from septic arthritis can become ill quickly and require hospitalisation to stabilise them. To confirm diagnosis your veterinarian will need to extract some joint fluid for a bacterial culture using a needle and syringe.
After diagnosis, your dogs joint may require lavaging (flushing) to minimise joint damage. Some dogs with septic arthritis require surgical opening of the joint, removal of any abnormal tissue, and copious lavage. Depending on the extent of the infection, a catheter may be placed so continual flushing of the join fluid can continue post operatively.
Post operative care is important and consists of alternating hot and cold packs in am aim to increase blood flow and decrease inflammation and swelling, along with significantly restricted movement until you have been advised otherwise.
WHAT IS IT?
Immune Mediated Polyarthritis (IMPA) is a disease in which a dogs own immune system mounts and inflammatory response within the joints. Meaning their own body is attacking the joints. This causes pain, swelling and difficulty walking.
When the body inappropriately activates the immune system due to the IMPA, white blood cells are sent to the joints. These cells release chemicals and enzymes into the fluid that bathes the joints (synovial fluid), disrupting the protective function of the fluid. IMPA can be caused from physical trauma, cancer, drugs and vaccine administration.
IMPA is more commonly diagnosed in dogs over cats, but it can occur in both. In humans Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of IMBA.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
If polyarthritis is present, the following are common signs and symptoms you will see:
- Weight loss
- Reluctance to move
- Swollen joints
A veterinarian will make the diagnosis once an underlying infection (septic arthritis) or cancer that may have triggered the joint swelling is ruled out. IMPA is sometimes called Autoimmune Disease because the whilte blood cells are attacking the joint inappropriately. Veterinarians may also conduct a number of tests as IMPA can be caused from a secondary infection. These tests can include, bloodwork, urinalysis, urine cultures, radiographs and an ultrasound.
The most common form of treatment is with immune suppressing drugs along with close monitoring until the joint reduces back it origional size and the infection is no longer present.
DOG BREEDS THAT ARE PRONE TO ARTHRITIS
Unfortunately, some dog breeds are prone to arthritis, and while this may seem unfair for those breeds, this information is a positive for those that already own a dog prone to arthritis but is not yet showing signs, or those that are looking to adopt.
The following 15 dog breeds that are known to be prone to arthritis:
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Great Danes
- Old English Sheep Dogs
- Shetland Sheep Dog
- Saint Bernard
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOUR DOG IS ON THE LIST
Don’t worry, you don't need to run to your nearest Veterinarian today. The key is prevention!
If you already have a dog on the list or are thinking about adopting a breed on the list, you don’t want to wait until you are seeing signs of arthritis and then try and reduce the symptoms. You can start early and help prolong and support the joints to remain healthy for as long as possible.
Think of it like keeping your own health, we all know that if we live an unhealthy life in our younger years that it will catch up with us when we are old. Our dogs are no different.
Here are some early prevention steps that you can do to help:
- Natural Supplements
- Medium to low impact exercise - particularly swimming
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Good quality and healthy diet
- Treat any joint injuries promptly
Once your dog is already displaying symptoms of arthritis it is much harder to ‘get back in front of the eight ball’, so to speak. Our natural supplements are an effective way to provide relief and support the joint itself to heal and repair.
It is important for me to note that if your dogs arthritis is very advanced, natural supplements may not be enough to recoup the joint/s. This is in extreme cases only.
Here is a great video created by the Natchez Trace Veterinary Services on how to massage your dog that is suffering from arthritis to help alleviate some of the pain.
FOR DOGS THAT ARE NOT ON THE LIST
You can relax, but not completely. Just because your dogs breed is not on the list does not mean he can not suffer from it at some point later in life. Remember, 1 in 5 adult dogs have arthritis, and there is a 65% chance that dogs over 7 years of age are already suffering from one form of this disease.
Keeping your dog at a good level of weight, along with a healthy lifestyle will help your dog joints healthy and happy for as long as possible.
If you have any experiences that you would like to share, or have any questions, please reach out to me. I would love to hear from you.
Founder & Veterinary Nurse