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Dog Arthritis: A Pain In The Joint

Dog arthritis is the result of inflammation in the joints. This may be caused by degeneration or swelling of the joint due to a genetic malformation, wear and tear, or infection. The following article examines dog arthritis, canine joint disease, and the steps that dog owners can take to assist pets suffering from joint pain.

Dog Arthritis: A Pain In The Joint

It’s no wonder that pet owners are concerned when their beloved dog begins to show signs of joint pain. “It’s arthritis” is probably the most common reaction when your pet is stiff-legged after exercise, has trouble getting up or is reluctant to go up or down stairs. Any such stiffness or lameness can have several underlying causes, and since arthritis itself comes in different types, a trip to the vet is a better choice than giving an aspirin and turning a blind eye to the problem.

Canine joint disease can be characterized by a number of factors and may include:

Progressive cartilage deterioration in the synovial joint

Loss of cartilage and its components

Changes in the normal bone architecture

Loss of joint mobility and joint space

Inflammation of synovial membrane with associated pain

As with humans suffering from joint pain, dogs are often reluctant to perform their usual activities. You may begin to notice the telltale signs of your dog’s arthritis if your pet is experiencing difficulty in getting up or lying down. Jumping up on the bed or sofa is no longer an option. You may observe that your dog has a reduced range of motion and occasional pain.

Symptoms of canine arthritis may include:

• Reluctance to walk, climb stairs, jump or play
• Limping
• Difficulty rising from a resting position
• Yelping when touched

The canine skeleton, muscles and ligaments make up a strong and vigorous body and provide a full range of motion. Muscles furnish power to propel the dog, but without healthy bones, joints and connective tissue, the muscles cannot do their job efficiently.

Joints are the hinges, which allow the skeleton its marvelous flexibility for walking and running, jumping and climbing. The joints are lubricated for smooth action by synovial (lubricating) fluid and are stabilized by tendons and ligaments. When joints are damaged by injury or disease, arthritis (joint inflammation), can occur. Whether it’s degenerative or inflammatory is generally due to the source of irritation.

Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease results from the destruction of cartilage that protects the bones that frame the joint. Cartilage destruction can result from normal stress on abnormal joints or abnormal stress on normal joints. Hip dysphasia is a malformation of the hip sockets and is an example of normal stress on abnormal joints. Constant jumping over obstacles, stretching or tearing ligaments during strenuous exercise or injuries due to an accident are examples of abnormal stress on normal joints.

Canine degenerative joint disease can sometimes be prevented or halted by surgical repair of the joint before arthritis progresses. Degenerative arthritis may not be evident until the dog has had years of abnormal stress. Cartilage has no nerves so the damage can progress without apparent signs until the joint is severely compromised and the lubricating fluid has thinned and lost its ability to shield the bone surfaces.

Canine inflammatory joint disease can be caused by infection or by a compromised immune system. This type of arthritis usually affects multiple joints and symptoms may include systemic illness, fever, anorexia and general stiffness. This may be sub-divided into infectious and immune-mediated categories. Infectious joint disease can be caused by bacteria, tick-borne diseases and by fungal infection. Natural flea and tick shampoos and potions are always a wise choice.

Treatment For Canine Joint Disease
Infectious joint disease and immune-mediated joint disease are treated differently. Therefore, it is crucial that the diagnosis be correct. The immune-suppressive drugs used to treat the immune-mediated disease may allow the infectious type of disease to thrive.

Degenerative joint disease can sometimes be halted or prevented by surgery when joint malformations are apparent. If surgery is not indicated, relief can be achieved with analgesics, exercise, rest and diet. However, even over-the-counter medications should never be used without the advice of a veterinarian.

Diet also plays an important role in the treatment of dog arthritis. Extra weight causes more stress on the joints and aggravates existing arthritis pain. In large breed dogs, periods of rapid growth can lead to the development of joint disease. Special attention should be paid to diets of puppies to avoid quick weight gain. Feeding the highest quality dog food you can afford and even the addition of a high quality fish oil may help prevent arthritis and build strong bones and joints. Of course, choosing healthy dog treats over cheap, calorie laden store bought treats will also help your pet live a healthier life.

Pain management is often used in the treatment of canine arthritis. The latest in conventional pain relievers for canine arthritis include: Rimadyl, Adequan and Palaprin. They are only available from veterinarians and may not effective for all patients. It should be noted that NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) including Rimadyl, Naproxen and aspirin can have serious side-effects. GI inflammation and ulcers, liver damage and kidney disease are just a few of the complications that may arise from the use of these commonly prescribed painkillers.

Rimadyl (generic name carprofen) is often prescribed by veterinarians because of its ability to relieve pain with few side effects. As with many drugs, blood tests to determine healthy liver function are a cautionary measure during long-term use.

Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) is given by injection. It relieves the pain of arthritis and has the ability to bind to damaged cartilage and aid in repair. It works to block destructive enzymes that cause inflammation and encourages the production of healthy joint fluid.

Palaprin is a buffered aspirin, specifically for dogs, but without the gastrointestinal irritation that occasionally occurs with aspirin. 

Holistic Dog Arthritis Treatment
Holistic approaches to the treatment of canine arthritis include veterinary chiropractic care, hydrotherapy, canine massage and veterinary acupuncture along with conventional treatment like pain management. It’s important to remember that “holistic” doesn’t only mean “alternative”.

A truly holistic approach looks at trying to heal the entire individual, and not just cover up symptoms. This approach identifies the best course of treatment: preventing further degeneration of joint tissue, providing relief from pain and minimizing side effects. Conventional drug therapy can be a part of a holistic approach to the treatment of canine arthritis if the goal is to help the individual become healthier and not just cover up symptoms while ignoring overall well being. The Holistic Guide For A Healthy Dog (2nd Edition) by Wendy Volhard & Kerry Brown is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in improving their dog’s health in a natural, holistic way. To find a holistic veterinarian in your area, visit the American Holistic Veterinary Association. PupLife.com offers free dog health care tips that can also be of great help.

Conclusion
Dogs with arthritis should be under the care of a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the best course of treatment. Some cases may require changes in treatment and the medication prescribed to establish which is most effective and with the least side effects.

Whichever treatment is prescribed, whether it is surgery, drugs or alternative therapy like accupuncture, owner can make a difference by making sure pets get plenty of rest and do not take part in strenuous exercise while they are under treatment and during recuperation. The type and duration of exercise will have to be restricted to reduce the pain as much as possible. Recovery may be slow and caution should be taken to avoid over exertion. Making sure that your pet has a comfortable Dog Bed to rest and recover in is always a wise decision as well.

Additional Resources
Canine Orthopedics by Robert L. Rooks DVM and Connie Jankowski
Symptoms of Arthritis, from Pfizer Animal Health, manufacturers of Rimadyl
Luitpold Pharmaceuticals Inc. manufactures Adequan
PharmX Animal Health Technology Division manufactures Palaprin
The American Holistic Veterinary Association
The Arthritis and Glucosamine Information Center