Arthritis in dogs

None of us like to think about our pets getting older. However, it is important we prepare ourselves for that reality. Learning about the signs of arthritis is important so that intervention can start early. Arthritis is a common joint disease among the U.K. dog population. Though it isn’t something we can cure, there are lots of things that can be done to improve our dog’s quality of life.

What causes arthritis?

For many, it is written in their genes. This is especially true for certain pedigrees such as the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever, who are also prone to joint disease such as elbow and hip dysplasia. Chondrodystrophic breeds (those with bowed legs or flat faces) such as Shih Tzus and Basset Hounds are no stranger to arthritis either.

Arthritis can also occur as a result of trauma. For example, if your dog broke a bone when younger, he may go on to develop arthritis in that joint as he ages.

Working and athletic dogs, as well as those who are over-weight, are also more likely to become arthritic in their senior years.

How do I know if my dog is affected?

Signs of arthritis tend to come on slowly over time. We may notice:

  • A stilted or unbalanced walk (lameness)
  • Licking of the joints
  • Muscle wastage causing the affected area to appear ‘sunken in’
  • Stiffness when getting up, especially in the morning
  • Slowing down and a reluctance to jump in the boot or go for a long run
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy

Not all dogs will develop every sign and different dogs will be affected to varying degrees. Some dogs can be very stoical though and if you are suspicious it is a good idea to get them checked.

Is there anything I can do about my dog's arthritis?

We tend to use a ‘multi-modal approach’ when it comes to managing canine arthritis. This means using various methods in an attempt to reduce symptoms as much as we can.

Medication such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and pain relief is often the mainstay of treatment. Recently, however there has been a revolutionary injectable medication licenced for dogs that gives another powerful tool to combat this issue. For most, it will be a lifelong intervention that vastly improves quality of life. Regular check-ups and blood tests are advised to ensure the medicine is not causing any adverse effects.

Those who are over-weight should be put on a diet and we should aim for them to have a Body Condition Score of 4 out of 9 when possible.

Daily joint supplements and a joint supportive diet should be started and continued for the rest of the patient’s life when appropriate.

Adjunctive therapies such as massage, acupuncture, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy all play a role.

The Take Home Message

While many of our dogs are living with joint disease, they do not have to suffer in silence. Book your dog in with your vet if you have noticed any of the symptoms mentioned above. For many, starting them on the right treatment plan will give them a whole new lease of life.