Much like in humans, arthritis is one of the most common sources of chronic pain in dogs. Unlike people though, dogs can’t talk and tell their owners to take them to the doctor at the first sign of pain. Often arthritis goes unnoticed, and untreated, until pain is constant and significant.
Types of Arthritis
Inflammatory Joint Disease
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints, so “inflammatory joint disease” may sound somewhat redundant but this type of arthritis is usually caused by an underlying infection or problem within the immune system. Inflammatory arthritis typically affects several joints causing stiffness, pain, and is often accompanied by a fever. It is important that the cause of this type of arthritis be properly diagnosed in order for proper treatment to be provided.
Degenerative Joint Disease or Osteoarthritis
This type of arthritis occurs, usually in older dogs, due to stress on the joints and damage to the cartilage protecting the joints. This may be the result of normal stress due to activity, an injury, hip displasia, or other malformations that cause unusual stress on the joints. Since cartilage has no nerves, degenerative arthritis is not often recognized until damage is significant.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Any change in your dogs behavior or activity level should be brought to a veterinarian’s attention but the following are common signs of pain from arthritis:
- Difficulty getting up
- Reluctance or refusal to walk, climb stairs, or jump
- Noticeable stiffness
- Change in behavior
- Change in eating habits
- Less playful
Damage from degenerative joint disorder can sometimes be prevented or slowed with surgery if joint malformations are spotted early. X-rays are not usually taken without cause, however, and once pain begins it is often to late to advise surgery or prevent progress of the disease.
One reason that large dogs are more susceptible to arthritis is that they weigh more, ,and often are overweight. Since the more a dog weighs the more stress is put on the joints, diet and exercise may be recommended.
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as glucosamine or Boswellan may be prescribed but dosage should always be monitored by a veterinarian.
Heat therapy is when hot water bottles or hot compresses are applied to the affected area several times a day for 15 to 20 minutes. Owners who use this method should be sure the bottle or compress is not hot enough to cause discomfort.
Some owners use massage to relieve the pain and stiffness of their dog’s arthritis. One technique is to use a medicated massage oil (approved by a veterinarian) and apply using gentle, circular motions twice a day. Not all dogs will stay still for this so it depends on the dogs temperament.
Whatever treatment is chosen, the dog should be taken regularly to the veterinarian for monitoring.