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How Common is Arthritis in Dogs?
Are There Red Flags Which Signal Arthritis in Its Early Stages?
Dogs in the early stages of arthritis tend to present a set of common symptoms. If you notice any of the following 4 behaviors, it's probably time to take your dog the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
1. He/she's limping. Dogs limp for all sorts of reasons, but if his limping is frequent and extends over a long period of time, the cause could well be arthritis. You might notice that he's favoring one or more of his legs over the others. You might also notice that he limps more when he first gets up in the morning, and that his limping then dissipates throughout the day as he "warms up."
2. He/she can't do some of the things she used to do. If your dog is a "couch potato," but she suddenly seems reluctant to jump up or down from her favorite resting place, the cause could be arthritis. Other changed behaviors may be increased difficulty getting into the car, going up and down stairs, or running in the backyard or on her daily walks.
3. He/she's becoming more irritable. Dogs are not that different from people when it comes to managing pain. Both tend to become more irritable in response to increased pain. If you see your dog snapping at you or others when you try to put on his leash, groom him or pet him, it could be his way of telling you that he's in pain, and that pain could be the result of arthritis.
4. His/her legs are becoming thinner. When a dog has arthritis, she begins moving less, and this can lead to atrophy of her muscles. If you notice that your dog's legs seem thinner than they used to be, it could be from the muscle atrophy associated with arthritis.
Prevention and Treatments
1. Massage: Many arthritic dogs appreciate muscle massages, which stimulate blood flow to atrophying muscles. Certified canine massage therapists are available to demonstrate techniques to owners. Warm compresses over sore joints can be soothing, but care must be used to avoid injury from excess heat.
2. Supplementation: Countless joint supplements are available to promote healthy cartilage and joint health. These contain varying combinations of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, green-lipped mussel and other chondroprotective substances. We don’t yet know whether beginning supplementation at a young age benefits every dog. This decision is best made with your veterinarian, taking into consideration factors such as diet and genetics/conformation. The effects of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA) have also been documented to support in dog's joint health. These are included in some canine arthritis diets, but to be effective, higher levels via separate supplements may be needed.
3. Exercise: Maintaining mobility through reasonable exercise is important regardless of a dog’s age and the extent of his/her arthritis. A dog with mild, early arthritis can and should get more exercise than an ancient pooch with severe cartilage erosion. Non-weight–bearing exercise— swimming, for example—is excellent if not contraindicated by other medical conditions. Look for a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP) for help with designing an appropriate exercise program.
4. Steroid Injection: You can try steroid for its anti-inflammatory effect. The caveat with steroids, of course, is that over time, they have a “breakdown” effect on body tissues, including joints. Also, if used for any length of time, they may contribute to the development of diabetes, medically caused Cushing’s disease, liver inflammation, immune suppression or other problems. In order to prevent gastric erosion or ulceration, vets will often prescribe medications such as histamine blockers (famotidine, cimetidine), proton-pump inhibitors (omeprazole) or gastrointestinal protectants (sucralfate). If ulcer symptoms develop, steroids should be discontinued. All this having been said, many old dogs with advanced arthritis can get four to eight weeks of benefit from a long-lasting steroid injection.