Dog Arthritis: Causes And Remedies
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Dog Arthritis: Causes And Remedies

Dog arthritis is a joint disease mostly found in elderly dogs. But what is commonly called the “chronic degenerative disease of the joints” is a major problem for dogs not only because it is very common among (about 20% of dogs suffer from arthritis), but especially for the impact (sometimes heavy) that the pain and mobility difficulty related to osteoarthritis has on the quality of elderly dogs life. Dog arthritis, which is a chronic and degenerative disease, is characterized by a progressive destruction of articular cartilage, ie the substance that allows the terminal portions of the bones to slide over each other, at the level of the joints. When this cartilage is altered or consumed it is replaced by the underlying bone tissue. This results in a feeling of deep pain and, with time, in a difficulty to move. Osteoarthritis is the major cause of rheumatic pain and is a chronic process which forms in the cartilage and subchondral bone. Dog arthritis can become severe if you do not change your dog’s lifestyle, and most frequently localized in the spine. Initially it manifests itself as a wearing out of the hyaline cartilage associated with reaction of the underlying bone tissue with consequent bone sclerosis. A medical evaluation may help identify possible causes, which can be: infectious diseases such as rheumatism related to bone aging problems, allergies due to food intolerances, metabolic dysfunctions as osteoporosis, immunological diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Most frequently dog arthritis is caused by the progressive usage of bone cartilage due to aging and as a result of trauma.

Dog arthritis

Causes of dog arthritis

If in puppies osteoarthritis is the direct consequence of specific joint diseases (eg, dysplasia), in the old dog the causes of degenerative joint are completely different. Over the years, the joints have to deal with the physiological aging process, which gradually deteriorates, making them more fragile and also more exposed to climate changes. In Veterinary Orthopedics this malfunction is referred to as “primary osteoarthritis,” indicating those forms of progressive joint consumption triggered by various events which are not well defined: by the accumulation of micro-damage caused by old age, to degenerative responses after traumas and fractures, orthopedic arthritis disorders which were not fully resolved in young age. Old dogs may also be struck by another type of osteoarthritis, which in this case is the direct consequence of a well-defined cause. Among these consequences there is the rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament, a disease that can result from traumatic events, but can also occur spontaneously in certain dog breeds (such as Rottweiler, Newfoundland, Dogue de Bordeaux, Great Dane, Labrador, Boxer).

The mechanisms that lead to dog arthritis are mainly degenerative in nature. The cartilage, which is a thin translucent layer of tissue that covers the surface of the leg bones deteriorates, creating friction between the bones. The cartilage’s important functions of cushioning and redistribution of loads are drastically affected by a degeneration, which progressively affects the structure of the cartilage and eventually dissolves completely. As a result, there is exposure of the underlying bone that, due to friction, thickens the developing bone spurs. Often, the synovial membrane (that which covers the entire joint capsule) is inflamed and swollen. It is under these conditions that the dog is in pain, it’s movements are rigid, it struggles to get up and walk, and very often, the dog is limping noticeably.

Another major cause of dog arthritis is related to dog obesity: in this case the excess weight stresses all the joints and with time this may affect them and cause them not to function properly. Dogs which have competed in agility contests, or who have worked a lot during their life are more prone to be suffering from arthritis.

Dog arthritis due to old age occurs more often in large animals: this is probably due to the fact that large animals have a very rapid growth of the skeletal structure. Especially for them, your veterinarian should act promptly by taking preventive care, to prevent the disease from forming in old age.

Symptoms of dog arthritis

If your dog eats regularly, looks at you with bright and joyful eyes, and welcomes you on your return home as only a dog can do, jumping and wagging his tail, then you have nothing to worry about.

If, on the contrary, you notice changes in mood, habits and daily activities, this might be a first sign that something is wrong. These symptoms could be related to a simple cold or some kind of a stomach virus. But it could also be arthritis. Remember that arthritis affects one in five dog and is one of the most common causes of chronic pain. Since your dog can not speak and describe how it feels, it is important to know how to interpret non-verbal signals, and especially not to underestimate even the most insignificant change. Some behaviours which you want to keep an eye on and that may act as a spy for dog arthritis are :

- your dog prefers to walk on one limb only;

- it has difficulty sitting or standing;

- it tends to sleep more than usual;

- it seems to have stiff joints and pain when moving;

- it is reluctant to jump, run or climb stairs;

- it has gained weight;

- your dog has changed its general behavior and attitude towards you;

- it is less attentive and alert, lost its reflexes and is less interest in playing.

Remedies for dog arthritis

If your dog has one or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks you have to take him to your veterinarian for an assessment of the clinical situation, which will involve a physical exam and possibly X-rays. If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis the best thing to do for your dog is to start a treatment plan as soon as possible. The treatment of dog arthritis is similar to human osteoarthritis.

For years osteoarthritis has been seen as burden to live with, controlling, at most, the symptoms (pain). Today, the situation has radically changed, and the orientation is to adopt a “combined” therapy, which not only controls the symptoms, but also focuses on slowing down the mechanisms of the disease. In essence, it is a set of interventions, surgical and medical, associated with each other depending on the underlying cause and the severity of osteoarthritis joint degeneration.

Basic lifestyle changes which will help your fight dog arthritis:

Weight control is very important in the management of osteoarthritis. The major experts say that a simple reduction of the body weight is able in itself to reduce the phenomena of lameness. Today there are many low-calorie foods, which are very useful and if necessary, there are also medications that can help your dog lose weight.

Movement – dogs suffering from osteoarthritis greatly benefit from a proper physical activity, which should be neither too prolonged or too tiring, but slow and done on a daily base. Yes! to the classic walk on a leash, whose length should be progressively increased, always taking care not to stress the dog. If your dog is particularly exuberant you should limit its movement. Swimming is a great option.

Pain control is the fundamental basis of any treatment of osteoarthritis. The most commonly used drugs are the so-called NSAID – a medical abbreviation that indicates “non-steroidal anti inflammatory.” There are many active ingredients formulated for animals, which are far more effective and safer than those intended for humans. Beware of the possible side effects, which can range from vomiting, gastric ulcers, and even lead to liver and kidney damage. If you can not use NSAIDs you may use other painkillers such as tramadol.

Physiotherapy – if carried out by experienced practitioners and under strict medical supervision it helps control osteoarthritis. Usually each exercise provides an initial heating phase and ends up with the application

of ice.

The adoption of these basic lifestyle changes should act together with the use of drugs that not only protect the cartilage, but also counteract oxidation stress, which is the cause for inflammation and joint pain. These techniques should be appropriately combined together with physiotherapy, rehabilitation sessions (to relax the muscles and stimulate circulation), or even surgery, (in those cases where the biomechanics of the joint needs to be restored).

My personal advice on dog arthritis

- Dog arthritis, which leads to difficulty of movement, is not an inevitable disease for older dogs. A thorough orthopedic examination can focus on the anti-arthritic measures best suited to counteract the pain related to the progression of the disease.

- Diet control allows your dog to reduce weight, avoiding excessive loads on the joints. Moderate physical activity keeps the joints in movement without stressing them excessively.

- Regular check-ups are important: it is the only way a veterinarian can diagnose osteoarthritis as soon as possible.

- Mild cases of joint degeneration greatly benefit not only by appropriate changes in lifestyle, but also by the use of chondroprotective and anti-oxidants.

Remember to pay attention to the symptoms!

- Dog arthritis occurs with obvious symptoms: pain in the rear part of the body, difficulty in standing up and walking in general

- In addition to normal wearing out of the joint, osteoarthritis can also arise as a result of rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament, an event which is rather common in some large breeds.

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