Arthritis in dogs can be difficult to diagnose as it can affect any breed of dog at any age. It is incredibly easy to put the symptoms down to something else such as old age, laziness or even growing pains. Even dogs as young as 6 months can suffer from arthritis. Arthritis in dogs that occurs before old age can be the result of an injury or an inherited condition.
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease whereby pain and stiffness develop as a result of wear and tear to the joints involved. Any joint can be affected by arthritis but your dog's hips, knees and elbows are the most susceptible joints.
Dogs with arthritis may find it difficult to move about freely and may limp or show other signs of pain and discomfort. A sufficient diagnose of arthritis can often be made by your vet while your dog is still awake. During this exam your vet should also be able to identify which joints are affected. Sometimes the vet may need to sedate your dog to do further manipulation or x-rays in order to confirm the diagnosis.
There are a number of things that can be done to help dogs with arthritis and a combined approach usually works best.
For older dogs or dogs suffering from arthritis, make sure their bed is comfortable. Also make sure that your pets bedding is warm.
Joint problems are aggravated by excess weight. If the dog is overweight then weight loss will go some way towards helping. Arthritis and the associated pain can make exercise difficult so the most effective method of weight reduction is to reduce fattening food intake. You could switch your dog to a low fat version of their dog food. Alternatively, reduce the amount you feed and add extra raw vegetables to your dog's meals. Ask if your vet runs weight clinics. You can get nutritional advice and have your dog's weight monitored. It is very important that a dog with arthritis has a normal body weight.
Many dogs will respond well to an improved diet containing raw vegetables. Carrots are often a particular favourite. A balanced home-prepared diet, as opposed to many commercial dog foods, will be free from artificial colours and preservatives.
Having said that exercise can be uncomfortable, it is important to point out that regular gentle exercise will help to maintain mobility. Joints that do not get regular exercise may stiffen up, making the symptoms of arthritis worse. Short sessions of exercise a few times a day will be beneficial. Gentle on-lead walks are best as a daily form of exercise. Canine hydrotherapy or other swimming could also be considered as this type of exercise is kind to the joints and non-weight bearing.
Just as for humans, swimming is beneficial to dogs as it provides an exercise activity that is non-weight bearing, therefore avoiding the impact, stress and strain of normal exercise. You can strengthen the animal's muscles without putting strain on the injury. Older dogs can also get relief from stiff or arthritic joints by exercising in the warm comfortable conditions that the hydrotherapy pool provides.
Of course, when we mention swimming you would be forgiven for thinking that a hydrotherapy session consists of your dog swimming about in a pool. Canine hydrotherapy is much more than just swimming. A canine hydrotherapy session may consist of specific exercises designed to target the specific muscles or injury site. Many pools also have jets that can help create resistance for the dog to work against.
Studies have shown that hydrotherapy has many benefits such as restoring and maintaining normal joint action, facilitating healing of injuries, decreasing pain, preventing atrophy, improving strength and relieving symptoms of arthritis. As a form of exercise, hydrotherapy can also facilitate weight loss and can be especially useful in dogs who are unable to or find it difficult to exercise normally.
The Canine Hydrotherapy Association (CHA) has led the way in setting benchmark standards for hydrotherapy in the UK. Their website can help you find an approved hydrotherpy centre near you.
Many dogs benefit from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines which help to keep the dog comfortable by reducing joint inflammation and stiffness. However, some dogs do not tolerate non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines so well and may experience vomiting or stomach ulcers.
Alternatives include pentosan polysulphate injections and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) joint supplements. Fish oils such as cod liver oil can help but supplementation with omega 3 essentail fatty acids (EFAs) would be of greatest benefit. When using supplements, quality is very important so do your research or consult your vet for advice. Other alternative treatments include acupuncture for pain relief, herbal medicine, homoeopathy and as mentioned above, hydrotherapy.
Remember that arthritis is a progressive disease and regular assessments by your vet are essential to ensure that your dog is receiving the best possible treatment and care.