Joint Health: Managing Osteoarthritis for Dogs

What is it?

Arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis (OA), is a progressive, degenerative condition of the joints that is irreversible. It can be due to an underlying health condition, such as joint dysplasia or a cruciate rupture; this is known as secondary arthritis. It can also be due to normal wear and tear with age (primary arthritis). In a healthy joint, cartilage covers all surfaces and creates a smooth, lubricated surface for joint movement. Arthritis is a progressive loss of the joint cartilage and thinning of the joint fluid, leading to narrowing of the space in the joint. This results in bone rubbing on bone, which causes pain and further response from the joint. The body attempts to stabilise the joint by producing bony growths around the joint, thickening of connective tissues, and increased joint fluid.

What should I look for in my dog?

It is unlikely that your dog will vocalise or show obvious signs of pain, as we might expect them to do with such a painful condition. Most dogs tend to be very good at hiding their pain. Subtle signs to keep an eye out for that may indicate your dog has arthritis include:

  • Lameness – lameness is the most common sign of arthritis in dogs. It may be an obvious limp, or simply a change in the way your dog walks. It may be occasional, especially after exercise, or may be persistent and get worse over time
  • Stiffness – especially after periods of rest and when trying to get up
  • Reluctance to jump – your dog may not be jumping into the car or onto the couch easily anymore, and be reluctant to jump down as well
  • Slowing down or tiring more quickly during exercise
  • Muscle wastage – as the dog used the affected limbs less and less, the muscle decreases in size in that area. This is commonly seen with arthritis due to hip dysplasia, where the thigh muscles significantly decrease
  • Swelling of the joints – as the joint worsens, the body tries to compensate by increasing the fluid within the joints, which may result in visible swelling, especially in the knees

How is it Diagnosed?

  • Diagnosis is firstly based on a thorough physical examination, checking for any signs of pain and/or decreased range of motion in the joints
  • Radiographs can be taken to confirm the presence of arthritis and diagnose underlying causes
  • A therapeutic trial using pain relief in the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be used to help diagnose arthritis by determining if the signs are noticeably reduced after taking them

What can be done?

Unfortunately, arthritis cannot be cured. The goal of treatment is to alleviate pain, reduce further degeneration of the joints, and improve the functionality of the joint. This is an integrative approach where multiple treatment types are used together to achieve the desired outcome.

  • Weight management:  Excess weight puts more stress on the joints, which will increase pain and the speed at which the joint deteriorates. It is important to keep your pet at a healthy weight, with low-impact exercises such as walking and swimming, which will also help to build muscle and alleviate the strain on the joints
  • Pain relief: Oral pain relief such as NSAIDs and/or gabapentin may be utilised in alleviating pain
  • Synovan (arthritis injection): These are weekly injections for the first 4 weeks, which will help reduce joint pain and help to reduce the development of arthritis in the joint. These can be continued as needed for the life of the dog to maintain joint health
  • Acupuncture/Laser therapy: Both techniques help the body to release its own natural anti-inflammatories, improve circulation and numb the nerves around the joint. This results in less pain and better mobility. It’s a good option to reduce doses of oral medications.
  • Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM: Also known as chondroprotective joint supplements. Together, these supplements help to produce more joint lubrication to aid in shock absorption, and may help aid in repairing damaged cartilage.
  • Omega 3: We have a highly concentrated form of Omega 3 available. Omega 3 fatty acids help to prevent inflammation around the joint, helping to reduce pain and arthritis progression.
  • Physiotherapy: This helps to strengthen surrounding muscles to take some of the load off of the affected joints and make your dog more comfortable. It may be as simple as controlled walking through water or swimming, or can be with a pet physiotherapist with massage, physiotherapy stretches and exercises, and water treadmills.

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