What exactly is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a very common progressive disease that affects dogs, especially middle-aged to senior individuals. The majority of older dogs will be affected. It is, in its simplest form, an inflammation of the joints. While signs will be subtle at first, as the disease worsens dogs can begin to visibly struggle with their mobility.
What causes arthritis and what are the symptoms?
Arthritis tends to be a genetic condition; a dog is more likely to develop it if either of their parents had it. This is why it is important to screen breeding stock for joint problems. As well as genetics, possible causes would include:
- Obesity, which puts additional pressure on a dog’s joints
- Over-exercising, especially on hard surfaces or when the movement is repetitive (jogging on pavement)
- Old injuries e.g. a previous car accident or bone fracture
- Underlying joint disease such as Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia or OCD
- Some breeds are more predisposed to arthritis, including the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever
- The older a dog, the more likely they are to be affected
How is arthritis diagnosed in dogs?
We usually check for arthritis when an owner picks up on some changes in their dog. They may notice they are taking longer to stand up, walk with a stiff gait, limp from time to time or struggle to keep up on walks. More subtle signs can include licking at joints and grumpiness.
A vet may pick up on the fact that there is some muscle wastage in places such as above the hips. When feeling the joints, a vet might detect a reduced range of motion and some creaking and clicking joints (‘crepitus’). Dogs may dislike having their joint flexed and extended.
We can confirm arthritis with diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays. This can be useful to rule out other causes of a dog’s symptoms such as a joint infection or bone cancer.
Importantly, the severity of the arthritis on x-rays doesn’t always correlate with the signs. Some dogs may have minor changes on an x-ray but very obvious signs of joint disease. We should treat the patient and not their x-rays.
Is there a treatment for arthritis?
Sadly, there is no cure for this debilitating joint disease. Our aim is to slow down the progression and keep affected dogs as comfortable and content as we can.
The ideal treatment will depend on the individual and usually consists of a variety of things including: