Updated: Mar 28, 2020
This post contains an overview of canine osteoarthritis, a common yet often misunderstood disease thought to effect 4 out of 5 older dogs. It is common to hear that a dog is "just getting old", "he's just grumpy" or "doesn't want to walk far anymore". In reality, many dogs suffer in silence from this painful and debilitating disease.
What is Osteoathritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that shows similar clinical signs as seen in humans. Whilst all the exact causes and mechanisms are complex and sometimes unknown, many cases are due to inflammation and sometimes referred to as "wear and tear". However, arthritis can also effect younger dogs who may be genetically predisposed to the disease, or have an injury/surgical site meaning the joint is more likely to develop OA related changes.
In a healthy joint, cartilage protects the ends of bones in a joint, creating a smooth and lubricated surface for movement. In the arthritic joint, cartilage can wear away or become damaged, causing painful rubbing of bone on bone - as a result, extra bony growths can occur which cause further pain and dysfunction of the joint.
The image below is taken from the PDSA. It shows how a joint becomes damaged due to OA:
In older dogs, OA creates a destructive progressive cycle that can have a negative influence on the whole body:
When this destructive cycle is in full swing, dogs can fall victim to chronic pain - this is long term pain that has no useful purpose, and can have a knock on effect on the whole body - causing reduced appetite, grumpiness/aggression, reluctance to play and depression. It is very sad to see a dog reach this stage; so knowing how to spot the early signs is vital.
What are the symptoms?
OA can take varying forms and differ in severity. A few of the common warning signs include:
Difficulty standing up and lying down, climbing stairs etc
Reluctance to exercise
Swollen or warm joints
Altered movement and lameness
Aggression or grumpiness - due to pain causing behaviour changes
Depression or low mood
Muscle wastage and weakness
Licking of joints
Other pain behaviours such as excessive panting
How is it treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for OA, and it is likely that most dogs will suffer from it at some point during their lives. But, that does not mean there is no hope.
Conservative management should be employed as soon as possible once OA has been detected - in many cases, prevention works better than cure. Vets can prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) and other medications to reduce pain and inflammation associated with the disease. Once the initial pain has been managed, veterinary physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and other complimentary therapies have a huge role to play.
Hot and cold therapy, massage, hydrotherapy, stretching, electrotherapies and more can all be utilised to manage the symptoms of OA. Diet and body weight is a huge factor; keeping OA dogs at a healthy weight with correct nutritional requirements is essential to improving mobility. Furthermore, environmental changes can make a huge difference to an arthritic dogs life; rugs and runners to prevent slipping, limiting the use of stairs, mental stimulation, ramps to access cars etc and providing soft beds can all help to make your dog more comfortable.
It is important to remember that every dog is different, and what works for one hound may not be suitable for another. By working closely with your vet and therapist to create lifestyle and treatment plans, your older dog's quality of life can be hugely improved.
The organisation Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) is an incredible movement that fights against the disease. Their website can provide more in depth information about OA and ways in which you can help:
Have your say...
Do you have an arthritic dog? Do you think your dog may be suffering from OA? Feel free to share your experiences, useful tips and stories, or ask me any questions you have.