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Coming home is my favorite time of day because I know I’ll see dog noses and wagging tails to greet me as I open the door. So it really stood out to me when Paul, our older dog (pictured in the photo on the left) began coming late to the greeting party. In fact, each time he got up from the floor, his movements seemed labored and slow.
I’ve been around dogs, dog lovers, and veterinarians long enough to know that arthritis can be a common cause for what I was seeing in my dog.
What Is Arthritis?
Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints in the leg or spine. This inflammation causes stiffness in the joints and soreness, or flat-out pain, for those affected. Osteoarthritis is typically caused by normal wear and tear, while rheumatoid arthritis happens when the body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
Arthritis is the same in dogs as it is in humans. It affects one in five dogs1, which makes it one of veterinarians’ most common diagnoses for chronic pain in our pets.
First Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
- Slow to get up
- Favoring a limb
- Hesitancy in actions they previously had no problem with (climbing steps, jumping up, running)
- Decrease in activity or play
- Laying down/sleeping more
It is important that you take note of when you first see these signs and see a veterinarian after two weeks of continued symptoms. It could be that your dog is just tired or not feeling well that day, but after two weeks of daily symptoms, it’s time to get things checked. Don’t feel like you have to wait two weeks either. If you feel that your dog is in too much pain you can always take him to the vet sooner.
Remember that dogs are animals and it’s part of their instinct to not outwardly show pain or weakness that, in nature, would reveal vulnerability to a predator. Since dogs do not display the initial signs of soreness and discomfort, by the time we notice them having difficulty in their stride or ability to get up, arthritic changes in their joints may have progressed significantly.
A Vet’s First Look
When you first take your dog to the veterinarian after seeing the symptoms of arthritis, the vet will examine your dog in a few ways to see what might be causing the trouble.
Be prepared to talk with your vet about all the things you’ve observed in your dog’s behavior that leads you to believe she’s slowing down or in pain. Bring your notes if you have them. This discussion may be the most important information your vet will use to make her diagnosis.
Other vet tests may include:
- Examination of the movement of your pet’s legs to determine which limbs are affected.
- X-rays of the affected joint to help confirm (or rule out) the presence of arthritis as the cause of pain or decreased mobility in the affected area.
- Blood and urine samples may be required to understand if an infection is the problem with the joint or if other medical issues are causing your dog discomfort.
- A fluid sample from the affected area may also be necessary to analyze the issue at the joint.
There are a variety of ways to treat your dog’s arthritis including nutritional supplements, medications, and holistic alternatives. Whichever you choose, it’s most important to discuss the options with your vet and agree on a plan. As with most pet health treatments, do not take action without first consulting a vet.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the most commonly used supplements that help decrease the inflammation in the joints and improve the body’s ability to repair and strengthen tissues. Glucosamine (View NaturVet Glucosamine-DS on Amazon) is a naturally occurring compound made of sugar and an amino acid involved in the body’s natural production of joint lubricants. It is extracted from crab, lobster, and shrimp shells. Chondroitin sulfate is composed of omega fatty acids, vitamin E, and selenium that work together to help repair damaged cartilage and can prevent future breakdown by keeping cartilage hydrated. Some studies show that combining glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate can improve the beneficial effects of both.
A green-lipped mussel called perna canaliculus is a sea cucumber that is believed to help minimize pain and provide nutrients that help maintain cartilage. Mussels and turmeric, the spice, are used to produce anti-inflammatory supplements.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a chemical found in plants, animals, and humans that supplies sulfur to the system which scientists believe may create other chemicals in the body. MSM is used for chronic pain, arthritis and joint inflammation.
The negatives of supplements are based on the effectiveness in your dog’s system. Different supplements will work for different dogs.
NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) have shown positive benefits in treating dogs with arthritis; they include pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, rimadyl, and etogesic. Although we may have some of these medicines in our own medicine cabinets, it is important to let your veterinarian prescribe a medication and dosage for your dog. Negative side effects can be bleeding, gastric ulcers, and kidney or liver dysfunction.
Steroids reduce inflammation at the nerve endings, which reduces pain. Synthetically produced steroids include prednisone, dexamethasone and others from the corticosteroids family. The negatives can include increased hunger and thirst, increased urination, secondary infections, and, over time, steroids can actually cause further damage to the joints.
All this talk about medications and side effects make me want to go for a walk. Good idea! Most vets agree that movement within your dog’s comfort is good for a dog’s stiffness. Often, a lack of daily exercise can be the very cause of your pet’s stiffness and it can also lead to weight gain.
Again, like humans, the more dogs weigh the greater the pressure on their joints. Remember to consult your vet about the exercise and eating habits that are best for your dog.
Alternative, holistic therapies for arthritis include massage (see the video below), low-impact rehab, acupuncture, and chiropractic medicine.
Although arthritis is common among dogs and can really cause them pain, the variety of effective treatments gives us all hope that they will be able to jump back up on your couch again, whether you want them there or not.
Source:  WebMD
What have you found to be the best treatment for your arthritic dog?
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