Caring for Senior Dogs: Canine Arthritis 101

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According to WebMD, osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, affects one in five dogs during their lifetime.

Taking a Bite Out of Canine Arthritis

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Most dogs diagnosed with arthritis are senior or older dogs. Arthritis, however, can occur at any age.

How do I know if my dog has arthritis?

While you may not notice the signs of canine arthritis in your dog immediately, once you know what to look for you can detect problems.  In his article, 5 Signs Your Dog May Have Arthritis on Vetstreet.com, Dr. Marty Becker shares ways to determine if you have a dog with arthritis.

  • Your dog just seems “off”  – If your older dog doesn’t seem like himself, talk with your vet. The cause of your dog’s unusual behavior could be arthritis pain or another medical condition.
  • Your dog isn’t eating as much  – One of the most common signs of a dog with arthritis is a decreased appetite. Pets in pain often don’t feel like eating.
  • Your dog can’t get comfortable – If your dog shifts around a lot and doesn’t seem to be able to get in a comfy position, he may be suffering from canine arthritis.
  • Your dog seems to have difficulty moving well Dogs who limp, tremble or seem to move slowly when they first get up might be experiencing stiff joints and arthritis pain.
  • Your dog cries out – This is an obvious sign of discomfort. If he cries out or whimpers when moving around or when you pet him, your dog could be suffering from arthritis.

If you witness any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your vet right away to determine if your dog has arthritis. Learn more about diagnosing canine arthritis.

How can I treat my senior dog’s arthritis?

The first thing you should do once you suspect your dog has arthritis is to take him in for a thorough examination by a vet. Then, your vet can talk with you about treatment options and ways to keep your dog feeling his best.

  • Ask your vet about dog arthritis medications and supplements  - “Your veterinarian can recommend join supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin or MSM, or prescribe daily pain medication to keep [your dog] comfortable,” notes the Grey Muzzle Organization’s Caring for Your Senior Dog handout. Remember to always talk with your vet before giving your dog any new medications or supplements.
  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight - Arthritis can be one of the first symptoms of a dog carrying excess pounds, with the joints becoming overstressed in supporting the extra weight,” says The Grey Muzzle Organization’s handout. Excess weight puts extra strain on joints and ligaments, contributing to arthritis pain in your dog.
  • Make sure your dog with arthritis gets exerciseAccording to Dr. Lorie Huston, a Providence, RI-based veterinarian,  “Exercise is important for arthritic dogs but should be low impact to avoid further stress on damaged joints.”  Dr. Huston recommends leash walking, mild, controlled jogging, swimming or even underwater treadmills as effective exercise for arthritic dogs.
  • Try heat therapy, especially in the cold months “There are heating pads on the market specifically made for dogs, with pet-friendly fillings and Velcro straps to help the pad stay on a canine hip,” says Dr. V in her article How to Help Pets with Arthritis Stay Comfortable In the Winter. “Ask your vet for recommendations so you don’t unintentionally cause burns to your pet with a heating source she can’t get away from.”

While your dog’s arthritis diagnosis may bring pain and discomfort, it doesn’t mean he has to stop doing all the things he enjoys. With treatment, your senior dog can still live a happy, healthy and active life.

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