OSTEOARTHRITIS IN DOGS
Joint pain not only affects people of all ages but also strikes dogs. It is one of the most common sources of pain that veterinarians treat.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ARTHRITIS AND OSTEOARTHRITIS
- Arthritis is the medical term for inflammation (swelling) of the joints. The term arthritis doesn’t apply to only one disease. This term actually refers to many other conditions affecting joints.
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis in dogs and it is also called degenerative joint disease (DJD). OA refers to chronic joint inflammation caused by progressive and permanent deterioration of cartilage surrounding the joints.
CAUSES OF OSTEOARTHRITIS
Cartilage acts as a cushion to allow a healthy joint to move smoothly through its full range of motion. In cases of OA, this cartilage cushion begins to break down because of various factors. When this protective cushion is damaged inflammation, pain, decreased motion, and the development of bone spurs result.
RISK FACTORS FOR OA INCLUDE:
- Age – middle-age to senior dogs – older dogs are at the highest risk
- Obesity or poor nutrition
- Genetic reasons
- Trauma or injury such as, fractures or ligament tear
- Excessive physical activity or repetitive stress, such as dock diving
- Larger breeds (for example, German Shepherd Dogs, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers) are more susceptible to different forms of skeletal disease than smaller dogs
- Inherited developmental abnormalities of the bones and joints
- Infections that affect the joints, such as Lyme Disease
HOW DOES OSTEOARTHRITIS AFFECT DOGS?
When dogs suffer from osteoarthritis, their joints become inflamed, swollen and painful. Any joint in the body can develop osteoarthritis. The hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and spine are the bones and joints which are most commonly affected.
Dogs with mild OA may have (and show) slight stiffness of the joints. When the disease is more severe, there is often limping and an abnormal stance (called lameness).
SIGNS OF OSTEOARTHRITIS IN DOGS
Since dogs cannot easily tell us that they are in pain and signs may be subtle, it’s difficult to identify pain. There are many misunderstandings regarding pain in animals. For example, it is thought that a dog that is not moaning or crying out is pain free. This may not be the case. Most animals are not vocal about their pain. From a survival point of view, it was to an animal’s advantage, when still wild, to suffer silently and not draw the attention of predators to themselves.
Here are a few behavioral and physical changes that could indicate pain:
- Change in normal eating habits
- Joint seems to hurt when touched
- Excessive licking of a joint or leg
- Stance changed / seems abnormal
- Limping and/or walking differently
- Disinterested in playing
- Lack of vocal expression or frequent yelping/whimpering
- Walking, running, jumping and/or climbing stairs seem more difficult
- Stiffness and/or slow to rise from resting position
- Behavioral change (for example, withdrawal, aggression)
If you notice changes in your dog’s physical appearance or behavior, talk to your veterinarian about your concerns.
CONSEQUENCES OF UNTREATED PAIN
If pain is left untreated, most dogs with OA experience loss of mobility (limitation of movement). Untreated pain may have many damaging system-wide consequences, such as immune suppression, digestive troubles, insomnia and anxiety. It is important for pet owners to learn to recognize possible signs of pain in their pets and consult a veterinarian.
IMPORTANCE OF REGULAR PHYSICAL EXAMINATION
Regular visits to your veterinarian can help ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight and active lifestyle. The veterinarian will perform a full physical examination, including palpating your dog’s joints and assessing their range of motion. X-rays can also help your veterinarian evaluate the degree of damage to the joint and can often catch signs of osteoarthritis early before the problem becomes serious.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are especially designed for animals to treat both acute and chronic pain. NSAIDs are very effective at reducing pain and stiffness and can improve the dog’s quality of life. It is important to use only pain relief medication that is prescribed by your veterinarian.
Other treatment modalities can include physiotherapy, laser, and changes in diet. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to remove damaged tissue from the joint or to replace the joint entirely.