Arthritis is something that you often hear about. As humans, we get aches and pains a lot, and they often stem from arthritis. Did you know that dogs can suffer from arthritis too? Well, they can, and nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing your furry friend suffering because they are in pain. Regardless of the origin, the pain and discomfort that they are feeling is often irreversible, but there are ways to make them more comfortable. In this guide, we will discuss what arthritis is, the symptoms that you may notice in your dog, and the available treatments for dogs with arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a term that is used to describe a change in the function of a joint. This change usually means that your dog’s joints are inflamed and irritated. The inflammation can be caused by a number of different things, but once the inflammation begins, it typically gets progressively worse over time. As the joints become more inflamed, the cartilage can wear faster, which causes more sensitivity as your dog moves. This irritation causes the blood vessels in the area to swell, which causes more inflammation. Once the tissue begins to stiffen around the joints that are inflamed, movement becomes more difficult.
What are the Symptoms?
There are symptoms that you may notice in your dog that may help you see that they are suffering from arthritis. One of the most noticeable symptoms is that they are limping when they walk. You may notice that your dog if favoring one of their legs over the other. This could be an indication that it hurts when they walk normally with that leg, so they are attempting to decrease the pain be restricting the movement of that limb. In most situations, this will be noticed the most when they first get up. If the pain is too much, your dog may stop jumping and running as much as they typically would as well.
What are the Causes?
One of the most common reasons that a dog will get arthritis is that they are getting older. As a dog ages, their protective cartilage will erode naturally, which causes the inflammation associated with arthritis in dogs, but there are other causes as well. If your dog has suffered from any type of joint dislocation or injury, it could lead to arthritis. This may not be something you notice right away, but a torn ligament is something that could be noticed years down the line. Having an overweight dog can also put a lot of strain on your dog’s body, which can increase their risk of getting arthritis.
How is Arthritis Diagnosed?
When you first take your dog to the vet, they may ask you a lot of questions about your dog’s health and recent behavior. Then, they will examine your dog’s limbs and joints to see if there are any areas that are warm from inflammation. The veterinarian will also look for signs of swelling and discomfort. Blood and urine samples will be taken to see if any infection is present as well. X-rays may also be taken so that the doctor can see how much the joints have deteriorated and if there are any significant changes to your dog’s bone structure.
How Can You Reduce the Symptoms?
When your dog is overweight, it can put a lot of stress and strain on their joints, so if the reason that their joints are inflamed is because they are eating a bit too much, then it only makes sense to help them lose weight to decrease the amount of pressure on their limbs. This weight loss can be done with a dietary change; your dog’s doctor may be able to recommend a diet that will help your dog lose weight. You can also decide to give your dog more exercise. You do not high impact motions like jumping that could irritate their joints more, but a daily walk or going for a swim could be beneficial.
When your dog is having difficulties with arthritis, one of the things that you can do to help them is make sure that they have a soft, comfortable place to sleep. When your dog sleeps on a hard floor, it is twice as difficult to get up when they wake. You can also make it a point to use ramps with your dog instead of stairs. This is especially important for small dogs that jump to step, which impacts their joints, and can cause damage over their lifetime. If stairs are a necessity, especially in the home, then you can help to cushion their steps by carpeting the stairs.
If your dog is experiencing crippling pain from arthritis, then your dog’s doctor may suggest using nutraceutical joint supplements such as glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate to ease the pain. These are naturally occurring substances, not drugs controlled by the FDA, which means that they are similar to a vitamin supplement that can be used to relieve joint disease. Using a supplement can actually help to create new cartilage, which is why it is often given to dogs that have undergone joint surgery.
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How is Arthritis Treated?
Treatments for dogs with arthritis vary, but the goal of each is to help minimize the pain that they have to deal with. Steroids are used to help reduce the swelling in your dog’s joints so that the swelling is reduced and they can walk better. This form of treatment comes with a number of side effects though, so it is often used as a last resort because continued use of steroids can actually damage the joints more. That being said, this is a great option to provide relief for elderly dogs who do not have a lot of time left.
Another treatment option for your dog is the use of NSAIDs, which are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Aleve or Ibuprofen. They are basically pain killers that you give to your dog to help them bear the pain better, just like you would take when you are in pain. They are great for reducing pain, but they can cause other side effects like diarrhea, stomach ulcers, kidney damage, and liver dysfunction. Do not give your dog the same amount that you would take because they actually should take a much lower dose. Your dog’s doctor will be able to prescribe this medication for your dog.
For dogs with severe arthritis pain, Class IV lasers can be used to stimulate your dog’s blood flow. These lasers reach deep below the surface of your dog’s skin to help reduce the amount of inflammation around the joints. It also stimulates their body, which increases the amount of natural endorphins that their body releases to deal with pain. With a few treatments, your dog will feel like a puppy again because all of the pain will be drastically reduced. One of the reasons that this form of treatment is so great is that it is a non-invasive procedure that can restore their mobility.
Other Natural Treatments
If you are finding that traditional methods are not helping relieve the pain that your dog is experiencing, then you can help relieve the arthritis pain through acupuncture. It is done in the same manner that it would be for treating aches and pains that a human would experience. Small needles are positioned under your dog’s skin so that they touch specific muscles or points in the body. This helps to release endorphins in your dog’s body, which are natural painkillers that will help them relax. In most situations, a difference will be noticed in about five weeks or so.
Physical therapy is another way to help your dog move more without being in extreme pain. Try avoiding exercises that have a high impact so that you do not irritate their joints more. Swimming is a great low-impact activity that they can enjoy. If you live near a beach, this is the perfect therapy for your dog. If you find that your dog is having difficulties with certain activities, giving them a massage could help relax them and ease the pain as well. You want to massage your dog in circular motions around the joints that are in pain. Do not massage directly on the area that is in pain so that you do not cause them to be in more pain.
Heat therapy is also a way to soothe their joints. If you have a heating pad at home to use, applying heat to the areas of their body that are inflamed can help increase blood circulation, stimulate their muscles, and reduce the amount of pain that they are feeling. A great way to use a heating pad for a dog in pain is to put it inside of their bed. This allows them to relax while the pain slowly reduces. Try using an orthopedic bed as well; this will give your dog a soft place to lay down that will not irritate their joints when they try to get back up from the bed.
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Can Arthritis Be Completely Cured?
Currently, there is no cure for arthritis in dogs. There are several treatments that can be used to help reduce the pain that your dog is experiencing, but the most that can be done is managing the arthritis. Since arthritis is the result of damaged cartilage in your dog’s joints, there is no way for this cartilage to fully repair itself. The medication and treatment methods that we discussed above can help reduce the pain, and in some cases, it can get rid of the pain altogether, but the deterioration that has already occurred will remain. The best we can hope for is to stop further cartilage deterioration from occurring.
Arthritis is a terrible disease, and sadly, it is just as painful for dogs as it is for humans. Luckily, if you catch the symptoms early enough, you can stop the arthritis from getting worse. If you notice that your dog is favoring one paw over another one, they are limping, or they are in a lot of pain, take them to their doctor so that they can get a proper diagnosis. In many cases, pain relievers are prescribed. Never give your dog any pain killers that you may have for yourself. Talk to your vet about your dog’s condition, and discuss the treatments that we discussed to see which one will be best for your dog.