Arthritis Care for Dogs
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Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Whether drugs, surgery, nutrition supplements or other alternatives are indicated in arthritis treatment, make sure your dog gets plenty of rest and limit exercise during treatment and recuperation.
Traumatic injury resulting in joint instability, being overweight, genetics, hip dysplasia, failure of proper bone development in young dogs and old age are just some of the causes of arthritis.
A diagnoses of arthritis is based on the history of your dog (if he had an injury or is overweight), clinical signs and palpation of the joints, X-ray and analyzing joint fluid.
Dog Arthritis Stages
occasionally lame after hard exercise
some stiffness when getting up
limps after regular exercise
walks slowly or has a slightly altered gait
hops instead of runs
hesitates to jump up or climb stairs
needs help getting up
limps at all times
unwilling to climb stairs or jump
difficulty squatting to urinate or defecate
shows loss of muscle in affected limb
indicates pain when touched
A dog who has arthritis can exhibit one or many of the following symptoms:
- grating, crackling or popping sounds upon movement of the joint
- swelling around a joint
- heat around a joint
- tenderness when you palpate a joint (examine with hands by pressing)
- tenderness when flexing a joint
- holds his breath or stops panting when a painful joint is manipulated
- reacts suddenly -- turns his head, snaps or yelps in pain when you touch a sore joint
- puts less weight on a leg with a sore joint when he's standing still
- holds up a leg with a sore joint
- redness of the skin around a sore joint (part your dog's fur to look)
- lags behind on walks
- decreased appetite -- pain from arthritis can cause a dog to stop eating
- difficulty rising from a resting position
- personality change resisting touch
- onset of stiffness being worst in the mornings improving as the day progresses
Dog Arthritis Fast Facts
A healthy joint consists of cartilage that covers and protects the ends of the bones in a joint. The cartilage has no nerves; when it touches the cartilage of another bone, your dog feels no pain. But arthritis causes the cartilage to wear away. This exposes the bone which has many nerves.
When two bones touch each other, there is pain and inflammation in the joint. This can result in changes to the joint cartilage, the joint fluid, the bones involved in the joint and the actual capsule of the joint.
This pain can greatly affect your dog's quality of life.
Because arthritis comes in different types, a trip to the veterinarian is necessary for diagnoses and treatment. These types include:
- osteoarthritis (OA) also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD)
- hip, elbow or knee dysplasia
- stifled joint
- hypertrophic arthritis
- shoulder degeneration
- wrist arthritis (carpi)
- kneecap (dislocation)
- infectious arthritis (Inflammatory joint disease)
- immune-mediated (rheumatoid arthritis)
- idiopathic (where the cause is unknown)
Degenerative joint disease can sometimes be halted or prevented by surgery when X-rays indicate joint malformations. If surgery is not advisable, relief can be achieved with a painkiller, anti-inflammatory medicine, exercise, rest, diet, supplements or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Your veterinarian will recommend the best treatment
1. Rimadyl (carprofen) can relieve pain with few side effects. Long-term use of this drug requires periodic blood tests for liver function, but most dogs do well on it. Like all drugs, Rimadyl is not effective for all patients.
2. Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) is given by injection twice each week for four weeks. It not only relieves the pain of arthritis, it binds to damaged cartilage to facilitate repair, blocks the action of destructive enzymes that cause inflammation and stimulates the production of healthy joint fluid.
3. Palaprin6 is a buffered aspirin specifically for dogs -- it can be used in the same circumstances in which aspirin is used but without the gastrointestinal irritation that sometimes occurs with aspirin.
4. Anti-inflammatory medications control pain and inflammation.
5. Corticosteroids (steroids) are commonly used for treating arthritic dogs.
Holistic therapy includes magnetic pet pad beds, acupuncture and herbal medicines.
Physical Therapy includes range of motion, stretching, whirlpool, swimming pool, moderate low-impact leash walking and massage.
Additional Help for Your Dog
- Provide a special dog bed such as egg crate mattresses, heated beds or special needs beds (orthopedic bed).
- Use elevated feeders for food and water to eliminate stress on neck and back muscles (especially for older dogs or large breeds).
- Dog ramps or stair steps help older and arthritic dogs get up or down from a sofa, chair or your bed.
- Comfort lift carriers placed under your dog's chest or abdomen help arthritic, lame, or recovering pets up steps, in and out of vehicles or up on their feet. Make a homemade sling -- slip a long, wide strap made of leather, canvas, or a towel under your dog's chest and hold one end in each hand.
- Provide shelter from heat, cold, rain and snow.
- Apply heat to relieve muscle spasm and pain. Soak a towel in warm water, and apply to the joint for 10 minutes, two to three times a day. Be careful with heat -- if the heat pack is too warm it can irritate the skin.
- If you notice swelling in the joint area apply a cold pack, or ice wrapped in a towel, for 15 - 20 minutes, three times a day. Also be careful with cold packs because if they are too cold, or are used for too long, they can irritate the skin. Talk to your veterinarian if you see signs of joint swelling.
- A circulating warm-water heating pad under a blanket can provide added warmth. To avoid burning the skin, don't place your dog directly on the heating pad.
- Dogs with arthritis can experience more discomfort when in a cold, damp environment -- try to keep your dog warm and dry.