Arthritis, a degenerative condition that affects joints, isn’t unique to humans—it can strike our furry friends, too. In fact, 1 in every 5 adult dogs in the United States develops the disease, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It’s one of the most common sources of chronic pain that veterinarians treat.
How does It develop?
Arthritis doesn’t develop in dogs the same way it does in people. “We humans walk around on our legs for 60 or 70 years, and there is a wear and tear component on our joints,” explains veterinary surgeon Joel Alsup of New England Veterinary Center & Cancer Care in Windsor, Connecticut. “I’m not sure it’s that much of a factor on our pets’ joints.”
Instead, dogs tend to develop arthritis due to some underlying physical defect such as hip dysplasia in large breeds, a ruptured knee ligament or other joint trauma, all of which cause damage to cartilage in the joints.
“Age just isn’t a factor like it is in humans,” Alsup says. Now that’s a bit of good news. It means that if Rover is roving just fine now, there’s no pressing need to plan ahead for arthritis. However, if you have a large breed, mobility can become an issue if the dog gains weight. Or starts to lose strength due to illness or advanced age.
Watching for Signs
Since your dog can’t tell you directly that she’s in pain, it’s up to you to observe subtle changes that may signal a problem. The Arthritis Foundation lists multiple signs that your dog needs help. Three of the most common:
- Favoring a limb
- Difficulty sitting or standing, especially in the morning or after a nap
- Hesitance to jump, run or climb stairs
If your dog shows any of those signs for more than 2 weeks, see the vet for a physical exam and possibly X-rays. If it’s arthritis, the X-ray may show bone spurs right where ligaments and joints attach to the bone. It may not be arthritis, Alsup notes, but any problem is more easily treated when it’s caught early.
There’s no cure for arthritis, but you can make your dog more comfortable. Your first move will be help him lose weight and get low-impact exercise, possibly along with physical therapy, according to Alsup.
He may also be prescribed a pain reliever—possibly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), or over-the-counter treatments including pills or food containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate or omega fatty acids. “All of those things can be put together to improve the quality of life of our pets,” Alsup says.
Pet owners seeking holistic treatment may choose to explore acupuncture, though there are no definitive studies proving its effectiveness. To find a vet who offers the treatment, check the listings on the website of The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture.
Don’t be tempted to give your pooch popular arthritis supplements without consulting your vet. As effective as Glucosamine and Chondroitin might be for some humans, the science is inconclusive in animals, Alsup says, even though they might be marketed as supplements for dogs. Even Glyco-Flex, made from sea mussels and sold as a natural form of these active ingredients, can be problematic because of inconsistent dosing.
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