Information About Dog Arthritis
Arthritis in dogs is a painful swelling and stiffness of the joints. It attacks more than 1 in every 5 dogs. The US Humane Society estimates that there are more than 78 million owned dogs in the US.1 That means more than 15 million dogs in America live with arthritis daily.
There is a wide range of types of arthritis in dogs and the number of things a dog owner can do to prevent arthritis in dogs. Chondroprotective agents such as glucosamine and chondroitin for dogs provide natural ingredients to support the natural rebuilding of joint cartilage.
What is Dog Arthritis?
Dog arthritis is similar to arthritis in humans. It causes joint pain as a result of damage to the joint, and the causes and type of damage vary with the kind of arthritis.
While there are numerous types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common. Osteoarthritis occurs when joint cartilage that is usually slippery and smooth, becomes damaged, worn down, pitted or absent. Joint cartilage is most often worn down by natural aging, an inherited genetic condition, injury or additional stress and strain on the joint from being overweight. Cartilage covers the bones ends and allows bones to rub against each other smoothly. Missing cartilage causes pain and inflammation as the bones in the joint directly connect without the cushion that cartilage provides.
To understand arthritis, we need to understand how a joint works. Joints have several elements working together in a system. The most prominent features are the bones that connect at a joint. The joint acts as a hinge between the bones.
Holding the bones together and in alignment are the ligaments. These healthy connective tissues attach to each bone like super-strong rubber bands and hold the bones in place while allowing movement in specific directions.
When bones rub together, it is extremely painful. Fortunately, the bones have a cushion of cartilage between them. The bones rub on the cartilage and not each other, which protects the bones.
Additionally, the cartilage is very smooth, allowing the bones to slide across with very little friction. Synovial fluid surrounds the cartilage, improving the slickness. This fluid acts as a lubricant and prevents wear and tear on the joint.
The synovial fluid also transports nutrients to the cartilage. Cartilage does not have any blood vessels, so the only way nutrients can get to the cartilage is through the synovial fluid, making it critical to the health of the cartilage and the joint as a whole. Finally, the joint is surrounded by the synovial membrane that encapsulates the joint and keeps the synovial fluid in place.
All the elements in the joint need to be in good shape for it to work properly. If there is damage to any piece, swelling and pain will typically occur. If the damage is severe, the joint may fail to work properly, and the dog may limp, or in the worst cases, be unable to walk. If the joint is not working properly or sustains an injury, damage to the cartilage will occur.
Two of the most critical building blocks for healthy cartilage are glucosamine and chondroitin. Because of the criticality of glucosamine and chondroitin to healthy cartilage, these amino sugars have been used as supplements to promote and restore healthy cartilage and joints.
U.S. Pet Ownership and Shelter Population Estimates : The Humane Society of the United States, (accessed 11/2016)
Cartilage, Wikipedia, (accessed 10/2016)
Glucosamine, University of Maryland Medical Center, (accessed 10/2016)
Chondroitin, University of Maryland Medical Center, (accessed 10/2016)
Arthritis in Dogs, Dog Obedience Training Review, (accessed 8/2016)
Synovial Fluid, WebMD, (accessed 8/2016)
Synovial Membrane, MedicineNet, (accessed 11/2016)
What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
Arthritis in dogs can be caused by a variety of factors including 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, limiting strenuous activities that are likely to cause joint pain, and supplementing your pet's diet with glucosamine for dogs.
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 because 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, such as German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, hip dysplasia is 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 his genetic factors. It is possible, however, to take an active, preventative approach to joint heath by managing his activities and supplementing your pet's diet with glucosamine for dogs 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 11/2016)
Structure and Function of Ligaments and Tendons, University of Michigan, (accessed 12/2015)
What are the Types of Dog Arthritis?
The types of dog arthritis are determined by the cause of the damage to the joint and the part of the joint that is damaged. In humans, there are over 100 different types of arthritis. Although dogs can experience many of the same forms of arthritis, there are a few common types of arthritis in dogs that owners are more likely to see.
Although any joint in a dog’s body can be affected by arthritis, the most commonly affected joints are the hips, elbows, lower back, knees and wrists.
Acute vs Degenerative Arthritis in Dogs
When most people think of arthritis, they picture joint pain gradually increasing as a dog gets older. This type of arthritis can be a sign of aging that gets progressively worse over time. This is a common form of dog arthritis, known as degenerative arthritis.
There is also acute arthritis in dogs. Acute arthritis appears very quickly, or instantly. Often, acute arthritis is the result of an injury. For example, a dog jumps off a deck and twists a knee or hip. The injury is typically to the ligaments holding the bones together. They can be stretched or torn, and the result is immediate pain and swelling. Acute arthritis in dogs can also be caused by an infection, often the result of an injury or bite to the joint. In some cases, the infection may not directly damage the joint. Instead, the infection causes a buildup of synovial fluid, and the swelling stretches or tears the synovial membrane causing pain or permanent damage.
Degenerative arthritis in dogs develops slowly over time and involves the gradual wear and tear on a part of the joint. Deterioration can often progress undetected to the point of joint damage because cartilage has no nerve supply. At this point, the lubricating fluid has lost its ability to protect the bone surfaces.
Osteoarthritis, a very common form of arthritis in people, also affects dogs and is a degenerative type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis involves the gradual wearing down of the cartilage in the joint. As the cartilage wears, it stops providing the smooth surface for the bones, and ultimately degrades the bones.
Hip dysplasia is another common form of degenerative arthritis in dogs. With hip dysplasia, the ligaments that hold the bones together stretch, allowing them to separate slightly. This separation causes the bones to impact the cartilage and each other, leading to a failure of the cartilage, development of bone spurs and other problems.
Degenerative arthritis has four primary causes:
- Aging - as dogs age, they produce less glucosamine, an amino sugar critical to the building and maintaining of cartilage. As glucosamine levels drop, the dog’s body ceases to have the materials required to maintain the cartilage, and it begins to degrade.
- Active lifestyles - causes wear and tear on joints. The level of activity that is acceptable or excessive will vary by breed and within breeds.
- Physical condition of the dog - Obesity and diets that lack essential nutrients will increase the likelihood of a dog developing degenerative arthritis.
- Genetic predisposition toward joint problems - for these dogs, providing a healthy diet and lifestyle are not enough, and degenerative arthritis may be inevitable.
Regardless of the type of degenerative arthritis or the cause, the result is the same. The joint becomes extremely painful, and eventually, the mobility of the dog is limited.
The Role of Inflammation
Degenerative arthritis leads to cartilage and bone degeneration. In severe cases, the pain is due to the direct damage to the bones. Prior to this, the pain is often a result of inflammation. As the joint degrades, it will become inflamed and release harmful enzymes from the inflammatory cells. These cells can cause erosive destruction to joint tissue by damaging articular cartilage, synoviocytes (cells that produce synovial fluid), as well as chondrocytes (cartilage cells).
Inflammation also causes swelling which presses on nerves and cause pain. This makes it imperative to reduce swelling in order to eliminate pain.
Interestingly, there is research that indicates that joint pain due to inflammation will lead to the degradation of other joints2. This study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, found that the transmission of pain signals from an inflamed joint would cause an inflammation in joints along the nerve pathways. The research describes a bidirectional transmission of inflammation and pain. This would mean that a degenerative hip would cause degeneration in the adjacent knee and in the back. Based on this, dealing with arthritis pain is important not only to alleviate pain, but also to prevent problems from developing in other joints.
Managing Canine Arthritis, AKC Canine Health Foundation, (accessed 11/2016)
Joint Cartilage Erosion in Dogs, PetMD, (accessed 10/2016)
Spinal interleukin‐1β in a mouse model of arthritis and joint pain, Arthritis & Rheumatism, (accessed 11/2016)
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs?
For most dog owners, identifying the symptoms of arthritis in their dog is easy. It is obvious to the owner that the dog cannot walk, run or jump as naturally as they could when they were younger. Initially, dogs become more reluctant when jumping, he may stop climbing stairs, running and can develop a limp. Eventually, the pain will become enough that he will struggle just to stand up or sit down. At this stage, he 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 your dog is reluctant to jump. Often, dogs 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 your dog is reluctant, then pain is likely a factor and arthritis is a possible cause.
Look for joint stiffness in your dog when he first gets up. Just as humans feel stiff in the morning as we get older, so will he. Changes in how your dogs must stretch and loosen up before becoming active could be an early indication of arthritis. Often, he will be able to run and play normally after stretching and warming up. However, as arthritis gets worse, he will no longer use stretching to loosen up and the resulting pain will prevent normal activity.
One way a dog will cope with joint pain is to develop new ways of moving so pay attention to him when he walks and look for changes in his 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.
The signs of arthritis are not particularly specific to the disease and often mimic symptoms of other disorders. Sometimes the first symptoms are mild enough to slip past even the most observant of dog owners. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Stiffness, especially after prolonged periods of rest or activity
- Warm, tender or swollen joints
- Loss of appetite
- Spending more time asleep or resting
- Weight gain
- Lack of interest in physical activity
- Periods of lameness along with a reluctance to rise or move around
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.
My dog is limping and in pain. How can I tell if my dog has arthritis?
The best way to tell if your dog has arthritis or determine why he is limping and in pain is to take your dog to your veterinarian. Dogs limp for some very serious reasons and it is possible that he may have a:
- non-visible internal injury. An anterior cruciate ligament injury, commonly referred to as an ACL tear, can quickly become worse without treatment.
- luxating patella, a condition where a dog’s kneecap comes off track. Some cartilage could have broken off within the joint and could be trapped within other cartilaginous elements of the joint.
- laceration on his paw and is limping to avoid the pain.
Canine arthritis is painful, but be aware that your dog's limping could be a symptom of damage that might need immediate treatment. Do not try to self-diagnose your dog. Your veterinarian can determine the true cause of why your dog is in pain and limping.
Although the symptoms of arthritis may seem 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 will my veterinarian tell me about dog arthritis treatments?
It is important to recognize that what looks like osteoarthritis can be a completely different type of injury. Only a veterinarian will be able to diagnose arthritis in your dog because there can be multiple reasons why your dog could exhibit lameness. Your dog might also be suffering from neurological problems or injuries to other areas of his leg; your veterinarian will most likely take an x-ray of the joint in question. Determining if your dog has osteoarthritis should always be left to your veterinarian to avoid a misdiagnosis.
If your veterinarian has determined that your dog has osteoarthritis, he or she may recommend the following:
- A scheduled exercise regimen to help reduce weight
- Changes in diet to help reduce weight and stress on the joint
- Depending on how bad of a case (usually determined by x-rays), your Vet may recommend surgery
- A dog arthritis medication, usually a NSAID (Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug) like Rymadyl, Zubrin or aspirin
- A dog arthritis supplement such as Osteo-Pet Total Joint Care for Dogs
1. "U.S. Pet Ownership and Shelter Population Estimates : The Humane Society of the United States." RSS. The Humane Society of the United States, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2013. 2. Fiorentino, P. M., Tallents, R. H., Miller, J. N. H., Brouxhon, S. M., O'Banion, M. K., Puzas, J. E., & Kyrkanides, S. (2008). Spinal interleukin‐1β in a mouse model of arthritis and joint pain. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 58(10), 3100-3109. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18821694
1. "U.S. Pet Ownership and Shelter Population Estimates : The Humane Society of the United States." RSS. The Humane Society of the United States, n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2013.
2. Fiorentino, P. M., Tallents, R. H., Miller, J. N. H., Brouxhon, S. M., O'Banion, M. K., Puzas, J. E., & Kyrkanides, S. (2008). Spinal interleukin‐1β in a mouse model of arthritis and joint pain. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 58(10), 3100-3109. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18821694
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