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 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.
To 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 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 older humans feel stiff in the morning, so may 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. However, as arthritis worsens, the dog will no longer use stretching to loosen up. The resulting 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. This is 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. Other medical conditions can present the same symptoms, and your dog's joints may be okay. 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.
What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
Arthritis in dogs is caused by a combination of acute activity, prolonged activity, presence of an infection and genetic predisposition. This combination varies with the dog and the type of arthritis.
Acute activity can lead to arthritis. Acute forms of arthritis are the result of injuries to the dog. For example, a dog that sustains a significant fall could have strained or torn ligaments. This injury is a form of acute arthritis. To prevent an acute arthritic injury, make sure your dog does not engage in activities that are prone to serious injury.
Degenerative arthritis builds gradually. This can be a very slow process, often taking several years. It is caused by the gradual deterioration of the cartilage and other elements of the joint. You can help prevent degenerative arthritis by maintaining a consistent activity level with your dog, making sure your dog is not overweight and limiting activities that are prone to joint problems.
The degeneration of cartilage in dogs is a part of aging. As dogs get older, they cannot produce glucosamine as well as they could when young. Glucosamine is an amino sugar essential for making cartilage. With insufficient glucosamine, a dog will not be able to maintain the cartilage properly.
Acute and degenerative arthritis are different but also related. Acute arthritis can lead to degenerative forms of arthritis. Dogs that experience dislocated joints, ligament strains and tears and other injuries are much more likely to develop degenerative arthritis later in life.
Infections within a joint can also cause arthritis. To reduce the risk of infection causing arthritis, make sure you quickly treat any injuries your dog sustains. The most likely means for an infection to get into a joint is through a deep cut, such as a bite from another animal. Treat cuts and bites quickly to prevent more serious problems from developing.
Unfortunately, many dogs are predisposed to developing arthritis due to genetic factors. With some purebred dogs, hip dysplasia is a very likely outcome. Screening the parents of the dog you are considering getting is a good first step. Once you have a dog, there is little you can do to change the genetic factors. All you can do is manage the dog's activities and diet to reduce the risk of arthritis developing.
Causes and Management of Arthritis and Other Joint Diseases in Dogs, Doctors Foster and Smith Pet Education (accessed 8/2011)
Arthritis in Dogs: Symptoms and Causes, WebMD (accessed 8/2011)
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