Although osteoarthritis can affect any dog at any age, it's one of the most common conditions we see in our "senior" dogs. When dogs develop arthritis, we tend to notice them rising more slowly after sleeping, moving stiffly after a walk or hesitating to jump on or off something they did readily in the past. Like human "weekend warriors," dogs may seem slower or sore after a weekend at the cabin or trip to the dog park. Common sites of arthritis in dogs include the hips, knees, elbows and spine.
Sometimes taking x-rays can help to confirm if there is arthritis in a joint, guide a treatment plan and help rule out other possible causes of pain. The good news is, when a dog is affected by arthritis, there are a number of important steps we can take to relieve pain and slow its progression. Probably the most important aspect of managing arthritis is keeping a dog's weight lean, which often entails weight loss initially. (Easier said than done, but worth the effort!) Like with people, carrying around extra weight adds extra strain to joints. Also important, there is accumulating research from the human medical field that suggests fat, or adipose tissue, actually contains inflammatory mediators called cytokines that increase overall inflammation in the body.
Another important aspect of managing our dogs' arthritis involves regular exercise to maintain muscle mass. For many dogs, daily leash walks are enough to keep muscles lean and symmetrical, and also help maintain good range of motion. Many dogs also show improvement when safely treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) made specifically for dogs, such as Rimadyl. These medications help reduce inflammation and pain, and are developed specifically for dogs' metabolism. Generally, we recommend starting with a trial period of about one week, which is often enough time for owners to notice improvement. (It's never safe to give dogs a medication made for people without checking with a veterinarian. Medications such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen are toxic to dogs and cats!) Joint supplements, consisting of glucosamine and chondroitin, fish oils, hyaluronic acids and fatty acids can also help support mobility.
Recently the field of physical therapy, a proven effective tool in managing osteoarthritis in humans, has become an option for dogs as well. This therapy consists of a combination of exercises that can help dogs recover some of the strength, flexibility and coordination lost due to arthritis. Click here to find out more about Westgate's new Geriatric Rehabilitation Program.
It's always important to distinguish normal changes attributed to age from signs of illness, and regular examinations and screening by your veterinarian can help do that. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or if you suspect your dog may have osteoarthritis and you'd like to know how we can help with his/her care.