Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment for Dogs with Arthritis
Compiled By: Kathryn Brennan-Hennigan, Karlsruhe German Shepherd Dogs
Two primary categories of arthritis affect dogs:
- Degenerative joint disease (DJD)
- Inflammatory joint disease
DJD is by far the more common condition, affecting one in five adult dogs. The condition may not be noticed by the owner until the animal has had years of abnormal stress. Since the cartilage has no nerve supply, the damage can progress with no outward symptoms until the joint is severely damaged and the lubricating fluid has lost its ability to protect the bone surfaces. This is why the degenerative form of arthritis is most often seen in older animals.
In general, pure breeds have increased tendency for development of arthritic conditions. Secondary osteoarthritis is more common, usually developing after trauma to the joint such as traffic accident, infection in a joint, or abnormal stresses on the joint surfaces.
The dogs body has three types of joints: ball and socket such as the hip and shoulder joints; hinged joints; such as the knees and elbows; and Gliding or plane joints such as the wrists and ankles. The joints are lubricated for smooth action by synovial fluid and are stabilized by tendons and ligaments. When the joints are damaged by injury or disease, arthritis (joint inflammation) can occur.
Dog arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects one out of five dogs and in most cases, occurs most frequently in older dogs.
The most common form of arthritis in dogs is osteoarthritis and is a result of trauma to the joint, infection of the joint, or age.
Infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease can cause joint disease.
Types of Canine Arthritis:
Traumatic Arthritis is a catchall term for the degenerative changes to a joint resulting from one time or repetitive trauma to the joint. Acute trauma to a joint may manifest as sudden onset lameness with swelling, heat and pain. Early assessment and treatment can markedly reduce long term damage to the joint. With acute traumatic arthritis, there is disruption of the cartilage, bone, synovial membranes and ligaments that support the affected joint. Inflammatory changes lead to increased synovial fluid production with swelling and associated pain.
Disruptive and acute traumatic conditions involving bone damage/dislocation and/or tearing of the ligaments may require surgical intervention. This should only take place after stabilization of the animal and the joint itself. Several weeks of resting of the joint are necessary. Immobilisation may also be required, depending on the nature and severity of the trauma. Trauma to the joints often leads to osteoarthritis.
Non-disruptive, traumatic acute conditions will not require surgery. Rapid immobilisation/rest and the use of NSAIDs will provide good results in many cases although in severe cases osteoarthritis will result.
Repeat trauma-induced arthritis develops when poor conformation is present, orwhen the animal’s activity gives rise to joint instability.
Osteoarthritis: A progressive degenerative joint disease where the cartilage breaks down causing the bones to rub against each other and the result is joint pain and stiffness. Cartilage destruction can be the result of normal stress on abnormal joints or abnormal stress on normal joints. Hip Dysplasia, a malformation of hip sockets is an example of normal stress on abnormal joints. Constant jumping over obstacles, stretching or tearing ligaments during strenuous exercise, or injuries in a fall or accident are examples of abnormal stress on normal joints.
Degenerative Arthritis may not manifest until the dog has had years of abnormal stress. Since cartilage has no nerves, the damage can progress with no outward signs until the joint is severely compromised and the lubricating fluid has thinned and lost its ability to protect the bone surfaces.
Hip Dysplasia: A genetic degenerative disease caused by a malformation of the hip sockets. Chronic inflammation of the joints occurs and the tissues surrounding the area begin to deteriorate and breakdown. Hip dysplasia is one of the most studied veterinary conditions in dogs, and the most single cause of arthritis of the hips. Hip Dysplasia is considered hereditary but new research suggests that environment also plays a role. Environmental influences include overweight condition, injury at a young age, over exertion on hip joint at a young age, ligament tear at a young age, repetitive motion on forming joint e.g. Jogging with puppy under the age of 1 year. The defect can be anywhere from mild to severely crippling and can eventually cause severe osteoarthritis. It is most common in medium to large pure bred dogs such as German Shepherds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, rottweilers and mastiffs, but can also occur in some smaller breeds such as spaniels and pugs and occasionally in cats.
(Despite the fact that the condition is inherited, it can occasionally arise even to animals with impeccable hip scored parents.)
Elbow Dysplasia: A degenerative hereditary disease where the bones do not form well and causes the bones to chip. It is considered to be hereditary and is seen as a common cause of front leg lameness in larger breeds of dogs.
Knee Dysplasia: A malformation of the leg bones that causes the loosening of bone at the kneecap which is painful, and causes lameness and limping.
Kneecap dislocation is usually caused by poorly formed leg bones which allow the kneecap to move or pop out of its normal position. Usually this is either an inherited condition or a result of poor breeding.
Ligament tears in the knee (stifle) joint: the most common cause of arthritis in the knee is a tear of a ligament of the knee, called the anterior cruciate ligament, which makes the joint unstable.
Hypertrophic Dog Arthritis: Excessive bone growth or spurs in the joints.
Osteochondrosis: Results from poor breeding practices caused by a poor diet that leads to cartilage deterioration.
In large breed dogs, periods of rapid growth can lead to development of OCD and joint dysplasia if the underlying genetic code is present, so special attention should be paid to the diets of theses puppies to prevent too rapid weight gain.
Degeneration of the Shoulders: Unstable joint or trauma cause the breakdown of cartilage in the shoulder, leading to inflammation and pain on movement, and consequently, chronic canine arthritis that affects other parts of the body also.
Inflammatory Arthritis: Includes infective arthritis and auto immune arthritis which affects several joints (e.g. Rheumatoid arthritis). This group of diseases is far less common than degenerative arthritis.
Causes of Arthritis:
Dog arthritis is common in older dogs that are overweight and inactive because their joint health has deteriorated over the years from wear and tear.
Younger dogs are not immune from arthritis. Some are born with degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia, or simply have an accident that can cause arthritis and inflammation of the joints for the rest of its life.
- Stiffness, lameness, or limping after rest
- Bunny-hopping or other abnormal gait
- Loss of appetite or unusual weight gain
- Inactivity and sleeping a lot more
- Reluctance to walk, run or climb stairs
- Unusual urinating in the house
- Irritability and behavioural changes
- Depressed or withdrawn
- Difficulty rising from a resting position
- Yelping in pain when touched
Canine arthritis evaluation will involve physical examinations, blood tests and x-rays. In some cases, a synovial (joint) fluid analysis may be performed if joint swelling is noticed.
Treatment of Canine Arthritis:
Early diagnosis and careful management of arthritis are key to successful treatment.
Degenerative joint disease can sometimes be halted or prevented by surgery when x-rays indicate joint malformations. If surgery is not advisable , relief can be achieved with painkillers, exercise, rest and diet.
It is important to minimize the dog’s arthritic discomfort and relieve thepainassociated with his arthritis. There are many ways to keep the condition under control and to improve the quality of your dog’s life.
Medication: Conventional medications to treat arthritis and help relieve dog joint pain. The use of NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs eg. Rimadyl and Metacam) can help provide rapid relief of pain, but do not repair or heal cartilage. Longterm use of NSAIDs can be harmful to liver and kidneys. Regular blood tests to confirm that the animal is not reacting adversely to the medication is advisable.
Other medication for quick relief is steroids or corticosteroids. Cortisone may be injected directly into the affected joint which provides almost immediate relief for a tender, swollen and inflamed joint.
Side effects of Dog Arthritis Aspirin may include increased risk of kidney damage, life-threatening stomach punctures, bleeding and gastro-intestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
Visco-Supplementation: This is the process of injecting a gel-like substance into the joint which lubricates the cartilage, reducing pain and improving flexibility. It also decreases friction within the joint, thus reducing pain and allowing greater mobility. This method requires ongoing injections as benefits are only temporary.
Surgery: Surgery is usually the last resort treatment for dogs with arthritis. They types of surgery available include joint repair, fusion, hip replacement and arthroscopic surgery.
Alternative Supplements for Arthritis Pain Relief and Joint Health:
In the past it is usually a foregone conclusion that NSAIDS analgesic like aspirin or cortisone like drugs are prescribed to cope with the pain. However, in recent years there have been newer treatments and safer remedies introduced that help alleviate joint pain.
Supplements containing glucosamine sulphate or glucosamine hydrochloride can be very helpful. Glucosamine is naturally present in animal bones and as a dietary supplement it can help promote new cartilage growth, relieve joints and muscle pain and improve joint mobility. There are no harmful side effects as compared to NSAIDS.
Glucosamine is also sold in combination with other supplements such as chondroitin sulphate to help maintain healthy joints. Glucosamine does not prevent arthritis, it just slows down the progression. However, it has anti-inflammatory and joint regenerating properties, which can be beneficial in osteoarthritic type conditions such as hip dysplasia or osteoarthritis in dogs.
Feeding a raw diet. With commercial dog food the nutrients are destroyed by the heat in cooking. Adding Fish Oils and Vitamin D to your dog’s diet is very beneficial.
- Aqua therapy (swimming)
MSM (Methyl Sulfonyl Methane | comes from rosehip). It is used in the prevention and treatment of arthritis. MSM is a naturally occurring sulphur compound found in every cell of the body and contributes to maintaining healthy connective tissue and membrane flexibility. It can assist in reducing inflammation and swelling associated with arthritis and other diseases or injuries.
Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics are essential to aid digestion and assimilation of the nutrients in cooked and processed foods. Poor digestion and leaky gut exacerbate and contribute to chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, allergies and degenerative conditions. Maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal system will go a long way to preventing these complications.
Another therapy which is showing great promise in the treatment of arthritis in dogs is stem cell therapy, whereby the stem cells are injected into the affected joint. These stem cells then function to improve the health and function of the joint and can be quite effective in treating canine arthritis.
Healthy Diet and exercise helps to avoid arthritis or reduce its affects. Adding Omega 3 oil to the diet helps also.
Fish Oils help reduce inflammation and also aid gastro intestinal health and the treatment of allergies.
Gentle exercise is vital for dogs with arthritis. A dog with arthritic conditions can live a normal healthy life and will need gentle exercise to keep the joints and muscles moving. Do not let the dog get overweight.
Keep the dog warm in cold weather, and supply a comfortable bed to support its bones.
Supplements of Glucosamine, Chondroitin sulphate and MSM as described above.