Over 12 million dogs are adversely affected by joint pain and mobility problems annually. Your wonderful, loving pet may be slowing down a bit, and it’s natural to assume that age is the cause. Anything more than a gradual decline in activity, or your pet’s diminishing interest in physical activity, may be signs that she has a more serious condition affecting the joints, known as arthritis. Yes, dogs get arthritis, too. Pain relief for dogs with arthritis is one way to mitigate this situation, but it is not the only answer. Lifelong treatment for arthritis is required.
Like people, pets can get arthritis in their joints. Knees, hips, and ankles seem to be the most vulnerable and shared areas for pets who get arthritis. Between the bones in the joint area is a spongy material called cartilage. This cartilage acts as a buffering agent, so the bones do not rub against each other, and motion is easy, smooth and painless. In arthritis, that cartilage begins to wear away, reducing mobility, causing stiffness and eventually pain. Without that soft buffer, the bones start to wear against each other, which is the source of the problem.
Take some time to actively watch your pet’s behavior. Remember, she can’t tell you when she’s hurting from stiffness or loss of joint mobility. It is up to you to watch for those non-verbal clues that she may be giving you. Arthritis for dogs has some common symptoms that you should watch for:
- Hesitates to go up or down stairs
- Avoids jumping up on furniture or into the car
- Slower pace while walking and tiring quickly
- Taking longer to get moving after resting or sleep
- Prefers lying to sitting or standing
These are only a few symptoms you may notice in your pet, but there are other, subtle indications in behavior that could also be pointing towards joint pain. Your pet could be sleeping more than usual, gaining weight, being less alert and showing less interest or enthusiasm for play and going for walks. If your dog seems to have symptoms for more than 2 weeks, it is time to take him for an arthritis evaluation by your veterinarian. The best thing you can do for your pet is to get a diagnosis and begin a prescribed arthritis treatment.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are commonly prescribed as a pain medication for dogs. Pain medication will only mask the problem, however, so treatment may expand to include special foods and over the counter products that contain glucosamine and chondroitin, which works to support the cartilage in the joints. Omega fatty acids are also known to increase cartilage health. Your dog may have to go on a diet to decrease the extra pounds that are causing unnecessary stress on already sore joints. Adding fiber to your dog’s diet should help your pet lose those extra pounds. There are even topical treatments available to relieve joint and muscle soreness.
In addition to managing diet, prescriptions and over the counter aids for your pet, there are some lifestyle changes that will also help to manage your dog’s arthritis. Low impact exercises, like leash walking, swimming and going up and down stairs, provide for good range of motion and muscle building while limiting wear and tear on the joints. Daily exercise is best, and warming your dog’s muscles prior to exercise and including a cool down period is beneficial. Cold, damp weather and conditions tend to aggravate arthritis, so provide your pet with a warm, dry place to sleep and spend time. A pet sweater will help keep those joints warmer during colder days.
Depending on your dog’s condition, physical therapy or massage may be part of your pet’s arthritic treatment. Massage can be relaxing for both you and your pet. It is time you can spend together in a relaxed and warm environment, when healing can take place. Begin by petting the joint area that is affected with arthritis and gradually use your fingertips in a small, circular motion. From there, continue the massage out to the general area. This may relax your pet for a good night’s sleep or could warm up the muscles sufficiently for daily outdoor exercise. Take any new treatment slowly at first. You want to build trust with your pet, so he/she accepts this new type of treatment to derive benefit from it. Massage has proven to reduce stiffness in muscles and promotes better range of motion.
Managed arthritis treatment can ensure that your dog’s remaining years are active and enjoyable for her, for you and for the whole family. Lifestyle changes that support a healthy dog and treatments that inhibit the deterioration of cartilage and alleviate joint pain are your focus. You and your veterinarian are the best hope your dog has for a long and healthy life. Arthritis doesn’t go away, but it needn’t be debilitating or crippling when you follow a prescribed plan for your pet’s care.