Arthritis In Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment & Management

Written by: Amanda Nascimento, DVM, MSc, Ph.D

Published on: 03/01/2022

Dogs, when they reach a certain age, can be prone to canine arthritis. This disease affects several breeds, especially the medium and large dogs.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a degenerative condition of one or more joints that causes inflammation, resulting in a decrease in movements and can be painful.

In addition to canine arthritis, there is rheumatoid arthritis which affects the immune system. This causes the creation of antibodies that attacks the proteins in its body. This is considered one of the more serious problems in aging dogs, as the cartilage in the joints becomes inflamed due to an autoimmune reaction.

There is also osteoarthritis which is a genetic disease that a dog can be born with and ends up getting worse with age.

Finally, there is septic arthritis which can cause an infection that affects the dog's circulation. This infection ends up moving through the bloodstream and affects the pet's joints.

What are the symptoms?

The most common arthritis symptoms can include lameness (difficulty of movement), stiffness, and pain. Stiffness is often worse after periods of rest and improves as the animal becomes more active. Lameness may be constant or sporadic and may worsen after exercise, specially if followed by a rest period.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will be able to provide a diagnosis based on an examination and laboratory tests such as x-rays, blood work, and clinical signs.

Possible Treatments

Medical therapy and supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids are the most used treatments. Surgery may be needed in serious cases of joint instability or severe, debilitating disorders. This will permanently fuse the affected joints.

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Managing Canine Arthritis

1 - Physical Exercise

Swimming and light walks are good choices to help manage arthritis. It is important to note that, any physical exercise must be guided and indicated by your veterinarian. It is also important to remember that the exercises should be light depending on your fur baby’s condition. Again please ask your veterinarian to know for sure.

2 – Keep the dog’s environment warm

Wet and cold climates can increase to your little one’s discomfort. Do your best to make sure your little one’s sleeping area is warm, dry, and cozy. The cold tends to stiffen the joints, thus making the movements more painful.

3 - Diet

Diet plays a very important role in arthritis management and requires some attention. As arthritis interferes with the joints, weight management is key to reduce discomfort. An obese or overweight dog will experience more joint stress. This will make it much more difficult for him or her to move. Therefore, a balanced diet will help keep your little baby fit and prevent obesity.


4 – Omega 3/Fatty Acids

Supplementing your little one’s diet with Omega 3s, also called fatty acids can be a natural method of decreasing inflammation and pain caused by arthritis. Omega 3 has been shown to improve weight-bearing capacity for your dog’s joints as well as improve functional activity and reduce the need for anti-inflammatory drugs. By adding a natural source like Camelina Oil, your dog can benefit from Omega 3 fatty acid and help make arthritis more bearable.


5 – Hot compresses

Hot weather helps to reduce pain in pets, but if it’s not summer or warm outside we can use a warm compress to apply on the joints! A very important tip is to do it in the morning, which is when the paws are weaker. Be careful not to make it too hot to avoid harming your pet!


6 - Massage

Consult your veterinarian and ask him to teach you how to massage the areas affected by arthritis. It will help relieve your little one's pain a lot!

Conclusion

In all cases, always ask for specific treatment guidelines from your veterinarian as arthritis in a dog may vary from case to case and not all treatments or actions may be appropriate for your dear furry friend.

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About Amanda - DVM, MSc, Ph.D

Amanda has worked as a clinical veterinarian during 6 years in Brazil before moving to Canada. She has provided follow-up care and support for patients, prepared treatment plans and prescribed medication, studied, diagnosed and treated animal diseases and injuries, advised owners about feeding, caring, breeding, and immunizing their pets, prepared and maintained reports and records on rabies, immunization, and disease, maintained records and support for administrative staff. During this period, she had the opportunity to work along with veterinarian pathologists that showed her some pathology techniques (anatomic or clinical) related to diagnose different diseases especially in dogs and cats that where very useful to decide the best treatment to the pet.