What is arthritis?
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints, usually in the legs, causing joint stiffness, pain and lameness.
As an arthritic joint is painful, the leg is not used as much as normal. This leads to loss of muscle, stiffness and a change in gait (the way the leg moves). All these changes in one limb can lead to extra stress and strain being put on the dog’s other limbs and back.
- Difficulty getting up from lying down especially in the morning.
- Lameness, usually of gradual onset.
- Problems climbing up or down stairs or jumping into the car.
- Not being able to walk so far or so fast.
- Possible temperament changes, such as becoming grumpy.
- Licking of the affected leg or other objects.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
In order for arthritis to be diagnosed, your dog needs to be examined by a vet. Often an examination in the consulting room is all that is required. In some cases it is helpful for the affected leg to be examined under general anaesthetic and X-rayed.
How much exercise?
During an acute (sudden) flare up of lameness we advise 3-5 days of complete rest, followed by a gradual return to normal exercise. Otherwise, arthritic dogs need exercise or they become stiff.
We advise regular exercise, preferably 2-3 shorter walks a day rather than one long walk. Jumping on to furniture, going up and down stairs or running to chase balls are activities best avoided as they can jolt the joints and worsen arthritis.
The most common type of arthritis seen in the dog is osteoarthritis, which is caused by some type of physical damage to the joints. Arthritis can also be caused by inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or by infection.
The three main causes of osteoarthritis are:
- Wear and tear of the joints due to age, especially in overweight dogs.
- Joint damage in growing puppies, usually in larger breeds, due to some combination of genetics, over exercise, rapid growth and incorrect diet.
- Joint instability, due to joint deformity e.g. hip dysplasia, or to ligament damage e.g. ruptured knee (cruciate) ligaments.
There is no cure for arthritis.
Treatment is aimed at controlling and managing the symptoms. Different dogs respond better to different treatment combinations. Treatment options include the following:
Weight loss is the major factor in overweight dogs. In some cases it is all that is needed to alleviate symptoms. We can advise and support you should your dog need to lose weight.
Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy are very beneficial for arthritic dogs, to rebuild muscle and improve mobility. Physiotherapy can also help to correct gait abnormalities. We are able to refer your dog to a physiotherapist qualified to work with animals, who has some of his appointments at our Glenfield Veterinary Hospital.
Other painkillers may be prescribed if anti- inflammatories cannot be used for some reason.
A short course of injections (pentosan polyphosphate), may help rebuild cartilage and reduce joint inflammation.
Food supplements such as chondroitin, glucosamine and green lipped muscle extract (the last 2 proven to help in people), are products which may help protect and repair joint cartilage. Veterinary chondroitin and glucosamine products are available.
Non steroidal medication
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory medication e.g. meloxicam – used either as short courses during acute flare ups, or more long term if needed. These drugs reduce pain and inflammation. Some dogs respond better to one of them rather than the others. Although these drugs are safe we advise 6 monthly blood tests for dogs on long term treatment, to check for hidden medical problems and to ensure that the medication is having no unseen side effects.
A diet designed especially for arthritic dogs is available. It contains chondroitin, glucosamine and fish oils, which reduce joint inflammation.
Magnetic collars can be very effective, having at least some benefit in up to 80% of arthritic dogs. It is not known how they work.
Cold compresses can be used on affected joints to decrease pain during acute flare ups.
Surgery is sometimes used to treat or prevent arthritis e.g. repair of ruptured cruciate ligaments.
If you have any queries about arthritis please ask a member of staff.