Sad dog at the bottom of the staircase

Arthritis can be a debilitating condition affecting the bones and joints, in dogs, cats and humans. While arthritis can affect almost any bone and joint, in dogs, the hips knees, elbows and shoulders are the most commonly affected areas. Older dogs are usually more likely to suffer from arthritis, with issues such as difficulty walking or getting up. Different forms of treatment are available, so that your beloved dog can hopefully live a long and pain-free life. Cats are usually more stoic and the signs of arthritis are more subtle.

Causes of arthritis in pets

Arthritis may develop due to a range of factors, such as:

  • ageing, as the bones and cartilage can wear down over time. This causes a lack of space in between joints and a loss of fluid, leading to pain.
  • injury through activities such as lots of running and jumping, which can create pressure on the joints and damage to the cartilage.
  • disease, such as inflammatory joint disease, which is often caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. Indirectly, Cushing’s disease affects how well your dog regulates stress, weight and sugar levels and therefore can sometimes lead to arthritis. Other diseases, such as genetic disorders passed from parent to pup, or diseases carried by ticks, can also cause arthritis.
  • lifestyle, as dogs which are obese or have diabetes are at greater risk of developing arthritis due to the increased strain placed on bones and joints.

Non-medical treatments/management of arthritis in dogs & cats

One of the simplest methods for treating arthritis is to make changes to your dog’s lifestyle and environment. Some of these treatments include:

Weight management, as carrying excess weight will place greater strain on bones and joints. This can lead to increased pain from arthritis, particularly in load-bearing areas such as the leg joints. By managing your dog’s weight, you can lessen the strain on the bones, which also has other benefits for its overall health.

Exercise, which involves sufficient physical activity (but not so much that it aggravates the arthritis and makes it worse). Swimming is an ideal activity favoured by humans with arthritis, and it’s perfectly fine for dogs as well.

Environment, as your dog’s home and even its bedding can exacerbate arthritis. If you have lots of stairs in your home, or your dog likes to jump up onto beds or couches, it may feel pain after climbing or descending them. Having supportive bedding can also help improve comfort for your dog whilst sleeping by supporting the joints.

Nutrition is very important, as a properly formulated diet can help reduce inflammation and help your dog feel less pain from its arthritis. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate can help relieve your dog from the symptoms of arthritis.

Medical treatments for arthritis in pets

In some cases, however, non-medical treatments may not be effective in dealing with your dog’s arthritis and it may be time to explore medical treatments. These kinds of treatments can take different forms, such as medication, physical therapy/massage, or surgery. Deciding which is best for your dog will depend on a range of factors.

Various medications are available that can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are a common option. However, due to their side effects, a blood test will usually be performed first to ascertain if your dog’s liver and kidneys are in good working order to handle the medication.

Glucocorticoids are a type of steroid which is more powerful than NSAIDs. Due to their strength, they can’t be used for long periods of time and they can have more serious side effects than NSAIDs.

Chondroprotectants are designed to protect the cartilage and allow it to repair itself. These medications are administered via injections into the muscles and have been shown to be highly effective.

Massage has been shown to be effective in treating arthritis in dogs. This can help improve mobility and strength and is usually performed in conjunction with other treatments, such as weight management, or following surgery.

For severe cases where pain is intense or the joints have become very damaged, surgery may be the best option. Different types of surgery are possible, such as through cleaning cartilage debris from around the joint, in order to improve movement. Another type involves repairing bone deformities, or even fusing bones together so that they no longer rub against each other. Like with humans, it’s also possible to replace a joint with an artificial joint.

Pain management/Living with arthritis

Living with arthritis can mean lots of changes to your pet’s diet and lifestyle. Making sure it has enough calcium and omega-3 fatty acids can help to ensure its joints are healthy. Sufficient exercise (without overdoing it) can keep your dog at a healthy weight and stop it from putting too much strain on its joints.

If you feel that your dog may be suffering from arthritis, speak to Mitcham Pet Hospital and we can help you to diagnose it. We can then work with you to create a treatment plan and ensure that your dog is well looked after.

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