If you're reading this article, chances are you're experiencing one of the worst feelings for a dog owner: knowing that your canine companion is in pain.

As our four-legged friends get older, it's common for them to experience joint stiffness from arthritis. Simple actions such as jumping on the couch or even lying down can be a chore.

It's heartbreaking watching your once lively pup start to slow down, but what can you do? We all know that aging is a part of life. However, arthritis in dogs doesn't have to be...

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

Let's start with the basics.

Arthritis is a general term for irregular changes in one's joint.

There are different types of arthritis in dogs but osteoarthritis, also referred to as degenerative joint disease, is the most common affecting up to one in five dogs. That said, while the condition is prevalent in our canine companions, it is often difficult to detect early on.

Arthritis is a progressive disease, meaning that it typically develops over time (although certain events can lead to the condition developing at a more rapid rate). It is most commonly characterized by joint inflammation, which ultimately leads to joint stiffness and a lack of mobility.

pomeranian going up stairs

The Science Behind Arthritis in Dogs 

In order to fully understand your dog's pain, it's helpful to be familiar with how canine anatomy works and what exactly is going on at the anatomic level.

Joints in dogs work the same way as they do in humans. A thin layer of cartilage covers the end of each bone in the dog's body. The layer of cartilage acts as a shock absorber. It protects the bones from each other as they allow the dog to move freely. A liquid called synovial fluid surrounds the bone and cartilage and serves as a lubricant. The synovial fluid and the spongey cartilage all make your dog's day-to-day activities pain-free.

When arthritis in dogs occurs, the synovial joint fluid and the spongey cartilage wear down, either from general aging and wear and tear on the joints or due to trauma. The break down causes inflammation, thus leading to pain and stiffness when doing activities that were once easy.

Additionally, the more the bones rub against each other, the more painful it becomes for your senior pup. The joint pain will often cause your pup to act more lethargic and timid when moving. Eventually, pet owners may find that even going for a walk is an unpleasant event.

As you can see, arthritis in dogs can be an emotionally painful experience for pet parents. It's not easy to see your furry best friend deal with pain or experience difficulty with activities they once enjoyed.

However, recognizing the early signs of the disease and knowing how to treat its symptoms can make a world of difference.

Types of Arthritis in Dogs 

There are five types of arthritis in dogs, but two types are the most frequently diagnosed.

Degenerative Joint Disease 

  • Also known as osteoarthritis

  • Caused by friction between the bones due to the erosion of the cushioning cartilage

  • Purebred dogs are known to have an increased tendency for the disease

  • Bone spurs commonly develop resulting in even more joint pain

Inflammatory Joint Disease 

  • May be caused by an infection

  • It can affect one single joint or multiple joints

  • May be the result of an inherited immune system flaw

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs 

One of the most important ways that dog owners can prevent the aforementioned heartache of seeing their dog in pain is by being able to detect arthritis early on and act appropriately.

Arthritic dogs (and dogs in general) are notorious for hiding pain. Therefore, when they do begin showing signs, the condition, whatever it may be, is typically quite progressed.

For this reason, it is important for dog owners to be able to recognize the beginning signs of joint pain in order to ensure that a plan of action is developed immediately.

tired dog

Arthritis symptoms in dogs include:

  • General stiffness

  • Disinterest in walks and exercise that they once enjoyed

  • Reluctancy to stand

  • Moving slowly and cautiously

  • Lethargy

  • Increased sleep

  • Abnormal movements

  • Decreased mobility

  • Timidness when getting on the bed/couch or into the car

  • Visible joint deformities

  • Swollen joints

  • Aggression when arthritic joints are touched

  • Personality changes (Irritability/Depression)

  • Intermittent lameness

  • Weight gain

Like many early symptoms, several signs of arthritis in dogs are non-specific. In other words, it may be a symptom of arthritis or could be a symptom of another underlying condition.

Nonetheless, it is imperative that pet parents seek a proper diagnosis from their veterinarian if their dog is displaying any of these signs of arthritis in order to ensure that they start an accurate treatment plan as soon as possible.

Arthritis in Hip | Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia is a disease in which the ball and socket of the hip joint grind and rub against one another instead of moving smoothly against each other. In dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis occurs primarily because the cartilage wears away at a faster rate than it can regenerate.

Your veterinarian will need to perform a series of tests including X-rays in order to accurately diagnose hip dysplasia and associated arthritis. A vet will also be able to confirm whether your dog's condition is a degenerative joint disease or a bone disease.

Arthritis in the Back and Other Areas 

Joint pain and associated arthritis pain also commonly occur elsewhere in the dog's body including the:

  • Elbows

  • Knees

  • Wrists

  • Shoulders

  • Ankles

  • Lower back

In fact, any joint is able to be affected by osteoarthritis.

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

The most common cause of canine arthritis is age.

However, while aging is undeniably a major factor in the development of osteoarthritis, it is not the only one. Afterall, studies show that one in five dogs will receive an arthritis diagnosis, leaving four dogs without the joint problems and inflammation. So what else is involved?

Factors such as old injuries, metabolic disorders like diabetes, and obesity all lead to a higher risk of your dog developing osteoarthritis.

This is because as all dogs age, the cartilage surrounding their bones naturally thins. But if a dog is also suffering from another condition such as obesity, the inflammation and associated joint pain is much higher.

pug on weight scale

Is Arthritis Hereditary?

Both degenerative joint disease and inflammatory joint disease may be hereditary.

There are certain breeds of dogs, such as the German Shepard, that are at a higher risk of developing degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis).

Additionally, inflammatory joint disease may be due to an inherited abnormality.

Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs

In order to accurately diagnose arthritis, your vet will likely ask you a series of questions including listing any behavioral and personality changes that you've recently seen in your dog.

The vet will then do a series of tests including blood work as well as a urinalysis. This will help rule out any additional conditions. While the blood tests and the urinalysis cannot provide a diagnosis of arthritis, they can help the vet detect infection and inflammation. 

After the initial tests, your veterinarian will perform radiographs (X-rays) on the affected areas of your dog. The X-rays are very telling when it comes to arthritis and will provide the vet with enough information to begin an appropriate treatment plan. 

Holistic Treatment for Arthritis 

The goal of treating arthritis in dogs is to provide pain relief and increase your pup's movement and overall function, thus improving their quality of life.

Whenever possible, treatment for arthritis should also involve repairing cartilage and slowing down any degeneration in the joint(s) affected.

Most of the time, your vet will prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These may help with easing the pain your dog may be experiencing.

However, there are also other options for arthritis in dogs that you may want to consider when developing your dog's healthcare regime.

Exercise and Weight Management 

Regardless of how you decide to treat your dog's arthritis, exercise and weight management are imperative for all arthritic dogs. Especially since studies show that dogs with arthritis will have rapidly worsening symptoms if they are overweight.

Dog owners should ensure that their furry companion is getting the necessary amount of physical (and mental) stimulation every day.

Additionally, diet is an incredibly important factor when it comes to your dog's overall health and well-being. Whenever possible, we recommend a species-appropriate, organic diet. That way, you can make sure that your dog is getting all of the nutrients they need without any added fillers that can cause additional health issues to arise.

Joint Supplements for Dogs 

Studies have found that supplements designed specifically to support joint health can reduce arthritic symptoms in dogs.

There are plenty of supplements on the market for dogs, so pet parents should do their due diligence in researching the best ingredients in a supplement that will help maintain their dog's joint health.

For instance, many of these supplements will contain naturally occurring compounds like amino sugars that help maintain the health of your dog's cartilage and can ease occasional stiffness in their joints by improving the body's production of joint lubricants as well as improving the condition of the shock-absorbing cartilage within the joints.

Here are just some of the supplements pet parents can consider when it comes to arthritis in dogs:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Fish oil

  • Vitamin E

  • Selenium

  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)

Such supplements, which tend to be associated with cell regrowth, can also provide benefits to other parts of the body, such as the:

  • Nails

  • Tendons

  • Skin

  • Eyes

  • Synovial fluid

  • Bones

  • Ligaments

  • Heart valves

As with all supplements, pet owners should make sure that they purchase from a respected, reputable company.

Supplements are not regulated in the way that medications and food are, so dog owners will need to ensure that they are purchasing a quality product.

Herbs for Arthritis in Dogs

There are many herbs right from Mother Nature that can help with arthritis pain and joint inflammation.

Yucca has both nutritional and medicinal properties that continue to prove effective for pain relief and reducing inflammation in both humans and dogs. In fact, holistic vets and natural health professionals report that yucca has a 50% to 80% success rate in alleviating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Another great natural anti-inflammatory is the powerful herb, licorice. This herb works as an anti-inflammatory agent and effectively eases pain.

The herb comfrey has been used to treat a wide range of ailments, including arthritic pain. Comfrey has a compound that is responsible for cell reproduction, making it an impressive healing supplement.

Devil's Claw is another popular herbal option in reducing inflammation and helping with arthritis pain. It contains harpagoside, a natural compound which alleviates pain quickly.

Developing A Care Plan For Your Dog's Arthritis 

As with all new additions to your dog's life, we always recommend starting off slowly.

Too much of anything can lead to digestive problems, which is the last thing your pup needs when their body is already in distress. Starting with half the recommended dose for any supplement or addition to your dog's healthcare regime and working your way up from there will ensure that your pup's body adjusts appropriately.

Furthermore, we highly recommend researching and speaking to a holistic vet or an herbalist in your area. You may be surprised by the number of holistic options available to pet parents. A holistic veterinarian will also be able to provide a plethora of information regarding how to best treat your pup.

Arthritis in Dogs: A Final Thought 

dog walking

We know that being a dog owner comes with its fair share of emotional challenges. 

Even once you come to terms with your pup's aging, it is an entirely different conversation when they outwardly show just how much discomfort they are in.

Fortunately, we are lucky to be living in a time when dog lovers have more options than ever when it comes to providing healthcare for their four-legged friends.

Using the holistic approaches outlined in this article, combined with the care plan developed by your vet, you can give your pup the best shot at easing pain, promoting overall wellness, and improving their quality of life--which will put a smile on not just your face, but your dog's as well!

Arthritis in Dogs FAQs

When can arthritis start in dogs? What is good for arthritis in dogs? How to treat arthritis in dogs? How to alleviate arthritis pain in dogs? What helps dogs with arthritis in their legs?

Sources

https://m.petmd.com/dog/general-health/evr_dg_remedies_for_arthritis_in_dogs?page=2

https://wagwalking.com/condition/arthritis

https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/top-10-herbs-for-natural-pain-relief/

https://www.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/care/7-signs-of-arthritis-in-dogs-cats

https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/senior-dog-health/arthritis-in-senior-dogssigns-and-treatment/

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