What are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs?

Symptoms of dog arthritis
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What are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs?

For most dog owners, identifying the symptoms of arthritis in their dog is easy.  It’s obvious to the owner that the dog cannot walk, run or jump as naturally as they could when they were younger.  Initially, the dog will become more reluctant when jumping.  Your dog may stop climbing stairs, running and can develop a limp.  Eventually, the pain will become great enough that the dog will struggle just to stand up or sit down.  At this stage, the dog becomes very lethargic and will likely have put on a lot of weight due to being inactive. 

symptoms of dog arthritisTo spot arthritis early, look for situations when the dog is reluctant to jump.  Often, the dog will have to be coaxed to jump and will start and stop several times before jumping.  If the jump is one that is obviously easy for the dog, but the dog is reluctant, then pain is likely a factor and arthritis is a possible cause.

Look for stiffness in the dog when it first gets up.  Just as we feel stiff in the morning as we get older, so will your dog.  Changes in how your dogs must stretch and loosen up before becoming active could be an early indication of arthritis.  Often, the dog will be able to run and play normally after stretching and warming up.  As the arthritis in a dog gets worse, the dog will no longer be able to use stretching to loosen up, and the pain will prevent normal activity.

One way a dog will cope with joint pain is to develop new ways of moving.  Look for changes in your dog’s gait.  One common change is for dogs to change from a normal running gait to a gait that resembles a bunny hop.  Your dog will place both hind legs on the ground simultaneously which reduces the impact on each leg.  It’s not a natural way for a dog to run, so it is a sign the dog is in pain and trying to reduce that pain.

Finally, look for other changes in your dog.  The pain from arthritis will often lead to attitude and temperament changes, weight gain, and a loss of interest in playing or other activities. 

The symptoms of arthritis can develop suddenly or gradually over time.  For some dogs, the symptoms are minor, but others develop a very severe form of arthritis that is debilitating.  Review the types of dog arthritis to better understand how arthritis develops.

Although the symptoms of arthritis are straightforward and easy to spot, it doesn't mean that arthritis is the problem.  The same symptoms can be caused by other medical problems and your dog’s joints may be fine.  If you suspect your dog has arthritis or you know your dog is in pain without knowing why, see your vet.  To check for arthritis, the vet will look for clinical indications of arthritis, do a physical exam and may x-ray your dog's leg joints. 

Arthritis in Dogs: Symptoms and Causes, WebMD (accessed 4/2012)
Canine Arthritis and Dog Aging, Dog Breed Facts (accessed 4/2012)

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