Osteoarthritis in dogs

Arthritis and Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Dogs, just like humans, can also suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes called degenerative joint disease.

  • Arthritis is the medical term for inflammation (swelling) of the joints. 
  • Osteoarthritis refers to chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage surrounding the joints. Osteoarthritis is usually progressive and permanent. Older dogs are at the highest risk.

How Does Osteoarthritis Affect Dogs?

When dogs suffer from osteoarthritis, their joints become inflamed, swollen and painful. The hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and spine are the bones and joints which are most commonly affected. Dogs with mild OA may have (and show) slight stiffness of the joints. When the disease is more severe, there is often limping and an abnormal stance (called lameness).

Consequences of Untreated Pain

If pain is left untreated, most dogs with OA experience loss of mobility (limitation of movement). Untreated pain may have many damaging system-wide consequences, such as immune suppression, digestive troubles, insomnia and anxiety. It is important for pet owners to learn to recognize possible signs of pain in their pets and consult a veterinarian.

There is effective treatment available that brings pain relief.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Some dogs are more likely than others to develop OA.

Common causes include:

  • Old age
  • Obesity
  • Genetic reasons
  • Trauma or injury
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Larger breeds are more susceptible to different forms of skeletal disease than smaller dogs
  • Inherited developmental abnormalities of the bones and joints

What are Signs of Osteoarthritic Pain?

Since dogs cannot easily tell us that they are in pain and signs may be subtle, it’s difficult to identify pain. There are many misunderstandings regarding pain in animals. For example, it is thought that a dog that is not moaning or crying out is pain free. This may not be the case. Most animals are not vocal about their pain. From a survival point of view, it was to an animal’s advantage, when still wild, to suffer silently and not draw the attention of predators to themselves.

Here are a few behavioural and physical changes that could indicate pain:

  • Change in normal eating habits
  • It seems to hurt when you touch them
  • He/she is excessively licking a joint or leg
  • Your dog’s stance changed / seems abnormal
  • Your dog is limping and/or walking differently
  • Your dog is not that interested in playing anymore
  • Lack of vocal expression OR frequent yelping/whimpering
  • Walking, running, jumping and/or climbing stairs seem more difficult
  • Your dog seems stiff and/or is slow to rise from his or her resting position
  • Your dog’s behaviour has changed (whether it’s withdrawal, aggression, etc.)

If you notice changes in your dog’s physical appearance or behaviour, talk to your veterinarian about your concerns.

Pain Relief

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are especially designed for animals to treat both acute and chronic pain. NSAIDs are very effective at reducing pain and stiffness and can improve the dog’s quality of life. It is important to use only pain relief medication that is prescribed by your veterinarian. 

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