What are the signs of osteoarthritis in dogs?
Often the signs of developing osteoarthritis in dogs are subtle, and can be indicated by simple changes in behaviour. The behavioural signs of osteoarthritis in dogs to watch for include:
- Limping after exercise
- Not being able to walk long distances and moving slower than usual
- Difficulty getting up after lying down
- Difficulty jumping (e.g. your dog is no longer able to jump onto the couch like he used to)
- Difficulty using stairs
- Increased irritability
These changes in behaviour can be easy to dismiss as normal aging or to even miss altogether. Your veterinarian can’t see how your dog behaves in his natural habitat, so your observations from home are a crucial part of getting to a diagnosis.
How do we treat osteoarthritis in dogs
There isn’t a cure for canine arthritis, but it can be successfully managed. The goals of treatment are to improve your dog’s comfort and to slow disease progression. This typically involves a three-part plan:
1. Manage your dog’s pain.
- Pain control is important because if your dog hurts, he’s probably not going to want to exercise. And if your dog won’t exercise, it becomes more difficult to control weight. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common medications used to treat osteoarthritis in dogs. If your dog doesn’t tolerate these drugs well, your veterinarian may recommend some other options to try. An innovative new therapy has come on the New Zealand market this month, May 2023, that specifically targets the pain of arthritis. It is a biological therapy (monoclonal antibody therapy) that works like your dog’s immune system and neutralises the protein that stimulates pain in patients with arthritis. This monthly treatment has revolutionised arthritis management in dogs in Europe and we already have similar positive feedback from the first patients in our practice. We are very excited to now have this option to stop arthritis pain in its tracks and make sure dogs don’t have to suffer the pain of arthritis – no matter their age. You aren’t limited to pharmaceuticals when it comes to pain control, however. Talk to your veterinarian about other treatments such as acupuncture, laser therapy, massage therapy, physical therapy, aqua therapy, and stem cell therapy. Your dog could also be a candidate for supplements like omega-3-fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin.
2. Manage your dog’s weight
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of slowing disease progression, as excess weight puts more pressure on your dog’s painful joints and can promote inflammation. Your veterinarian can help you develop a plan that includes a target weight, what kind of food to provide, how much to provide, and when to provide it. Some prescription diets for dogs are designed to both manage weight and provide joint support.
3. Manage your dog’s exercise
Make sure your arthritic dog gets regular, low-impact exercise. Exercise is key to keeping joints healthy, but you may need to modify your dog’s regular activities if he’s suffering from osteoarthritis. Controlled exercise on a leash when going for walks is important to prevent self injury. If you’re not sure how to safely keep your dog moving (or even how to motivate him to move), ask your veterinarian for tips.
In some cases of dog arthritis, surgery is the best treatment option. Partner with your veterinarian to determine the best plan for your pet. And remember to always check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on any sort of treatment—even if it’s an over-the-counter supplement.
What changes can I make to my dogs environment (home/kennel/bed) to help the arthritis?
Many dogs live in their owner’s home and may spend up to 90% of their life in that environment. Others live outdoors in kennels and runs. So, as they age and develop joint disease there are modifications you can make to their environment to help with the discomfort of this condition.
If there are steps that they repeatedly struggle up and down, floors they repeatedly slip on, or solid cold beds they repeatedly sleep on, or cold damp kennels their condition will not improve as they will continue suffer pain and potentially injure themselves.
Your dog’s lack of ability to keep warm, correct and therefore protect themselves when they slip, or have to negotiate difficult paths will leave them prone to discomfort and further trauma.
Modifying the house and or kennels, tackling these obstacles will significantly decrease your dog’s discomfort, reduce the frequency of flare-ups, and slow the progression of the disease.
Adapt your stairs
Both climbing and descending stairs are physically hard work and dangerous. Minimising access, as well as controlling and supporting both ascent and descent are essential to prevent repetitive trauma.
Find a better bed
An orthopaedic dog bed, larger than the dog, with low sides, predictable clear margins, and a suitable depth that doesn’t feel uncomfortable when you sit on it for 5 minutes is ideal for dogs suffering from arthritis.
Cover floors with rugs and other non-slip surfaces
A slippery floor, be it wooden, laminate, or tile is very hazardous for an arthritic dog that already has weak & painful limbs. Repeated slips, no matter how small, will progress the clinical signs of arthritis. Creating pathways out of rugs or non-slip matting will help considerably.
Make sure your dog flap is suitable:
Dog flaps are often overlooked as a source of potential injury. Ensure it is big enough for your dog to step through without clipping their body, that there is a non-slip surface on both sides, and that there is not a blind drop on either side.
A warm dry kennel – healthy homes for dogs
Kennels need to be dry and warm with suitable washable bedding. Ramps are always a good idea as well.
Check outside, too
It’s not just inside your house that might need some attention. Think about minimising steps and other hazards outside too – like with this ramp.
When to see a vet
We encourage you to book a visit with your vet if you have any concerns, or your dog is exhibiting any of the osetoarthritis signs above. There are many options available and your Anexa Vet is here to work with you to find one that suits your pet and your lifestyle needs.