Did you know that osteoarthritis (OA) is considered to be the most common chronic orthopedic condition in dogs? This disease, characterized by painful inflammation of joints due to cartilage damage, can greatly reduce your pet’s quality of life.
According to petMD, the condition is irreversible and it may threaten to cut your dog’s life painfully short. At least a quarter of a million dogs worldwide are diagnosed with osteoarthritis at some point in their lives.
Despite being incurable, early diagnosis and treatment promise to preserve your pet’s life for many years. Not only that, but these also show promise in improving their quality of life. Timely diagnosis depends upon knowing the condition’s risk factors, symptoms, and relevant treatment procedures.
In this article, we will discuss what makes a dog vulnerable to osteoarthritis, and what role a pet parent plays in diagnosis and treatment.
Risk Factors for Osteoarthritis in Dogs
Certain factors make your pet an easy target for the OA condition. Let’s look at the top risk factors, as published by the National Institutes of Health –
As the American Kennel Club puts it, osteoarthritis is caused due to cartilage deterioration that leads to inflammation of joints. In healthy dogs, the cartilage enables smooth and easy movement.
However, this cushion-like cartilage begins to wear down speedily due to age. Studies suggest that osteoarthritis cases are twice as likely in dogs over eight years of age. Routine checks (every six months) should help in early detection and disease management.
The University of Helsinki conducted a canine study where blood samples of 700 German Shepherds (healthy to severe hip dysplasia) were taken. The gene mapping results were interesting, showing that a multitude of genes played a key role in degenerative joint disorders.
In cases where no identifiable factors support the development of canine osteoarthritis, the genes may be responsible.
Your dog’s breed also makes them vulnerable to developing osteoarthritis. In general, the condition affects large breed dogs, including Great Dane, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Samoyed, and Alaskan Malamute, among others.
It is believed that these dogs’ large size tends to put excessive pressure on the joints, especially as they age.
A dog’s conformation is its overall body structure and appearance as visible to the naked eye. A dog needs to have normal to moderate conformation in terms of their joint structure for equal weight distribution.
For instance – poor conformation in the form of knock knees or bow legs can lead to uneven joint load. This can gradually give rise to canine osteoarthritis.
Studies have found that dogs, when neutered before 12 months, were at a higher risk of developing orthopedic problems. It is important to let your pet reach sexual maturity before they’re neutered.
The reason behind this factor is believed to be a hormonal effect on long-bone development.
- Body Weight
Dogs that are obese weigh more than what their joints can support. Moreover, it is now known that the fat tissue, being biologically active, may release hormones that lead to joint inflammation.
One hormone, in particular, called leptin, leads to inflammation when it infiltrates the joints. This hormone is also responsible for influencing changes that occur due to OA. This is why your pet needs to maintain a healthy weight.
Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
As osteoarthritis progresses, its effect leaves several telltale signs to watch out for. These include –
- Swelling in the affected joints
- Pain and lameness
- Your pet may refuse to put pressure on certain joints, jump, run, or use the stairs
- They may be reluctant to stand upright
- Most dogs display discomfort and restlessness
- They may show a lack of enthusiasm in activities that they previously enjoyed, mainly walking and playing
- Aggression, irritability, or whining
- Slower, limping gait
- Constant licking of joints
The easiest way a veterinarian can detect osteoarthritis includes a thorough physical examination. Your pet will be taken off their leash and assessed from head to toe – their gait, posture, conformation, etc. If the doctor suspects joint degenerative disease, they will recommend an X-ray to get an accurate diagnosis.
The most common treatment option for osteoarthritis in dogs is Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In particular, Carprofen for dogs is often recommended to help manage pain and inflammation. The vet will also suggest certain dietary and lifestyle changes along with physical rehabilitation.
If the damage is extensive, your pet may require orthopedic surgery. According to PetRx, Carprofen caplets are also effective in post-operative pain management. Different dosage or strength of the medication is available to tackle different pain intensities. When diagnosed early, a combination of these treatments makes the prognosis good.
What You Can Do to Prevent and Manage the Disease
Besides providing your pet with medical support, routine checks, and medication, certain home remedies may help in better disease management. If your pet is currently healthy, these tips can keep osteoarthritis at bay.
As stated earlier, excess weight puts undue pressure on your dog’s joints and muscles. Gradually, this may lead to joint inflammation. If your pet is currently overweight, proper nutrition and frequent play should help in weight management.
Healthy dog food would include leaner meats like turkey, chicken, lean beef, fish, or lamb. These will provide your pet with the required amino acids without piling up unnecessary calories.
Many pet parents ask whether it’s safe for their dog to exercise with osteoarthritis. Your pet may not be able to continue their former exercise routine, but they still need some joint movement. This will prevent weight gain, joint stiffening, and muscle cramps.
Some ways you can introduce a controlled exercise routine include daily walks and playing with smaller dogs or puppies. Just ensure that you maintain a fixed routine. For instance – do not opt for short walks during weekdays and a long walk during the weekend.
Also, prevent your pet from playing on uneven or rough terrain. This may unstable their gait and trigger pain in affected joints.
Certain hands-on techniques may help with your pet’s arthritic pain, range of motion, and flexibility. For example – you can gently massage your dog’s joints before encouraging them to go on a walk. The massage acts as a warm-up and may help with stiffened joints.
Besides a massage, try manipulating your pet’s affected joints for increased blood flow and better stability. Finally, help them stretch their limbs to increase flexibility.
An unexpected slippage, a reluctant gait up the stairs, or a missed catch in the park – osteoarthritis can show up in different ways. Pet parents must keep their eyes open to their dog’s changing health.
This disease is becoming a top health concern as cases are rising, especially among senior dogs. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to providing your pet with a good life. Above all, remember that mobility matters and a playful and fit pet is a healthy one.
Take the necessary preventive measures, keep a close eye on your pet’s health, and schedule routine vet visits. A dedicated pet parent can help their furry baby live a long, happy, and healthy life.