Arthritis, also called osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a common disease of joints in dogs. Arthritis is characterized by a gradual onset, off-and-on lameness, stiffness of joints (particularly in the morning) and the dog tending to “warm up” out of this stiffness. Depending on the length and severity of the disease, pain, swelling and grinding may be felt.
All joints are lined with cartilage; it’s there to protect the bone ends by acting as shock absorbers and, together with joint fluid, allows smooth and free movement. Arthritis causes the cartilage in the joint to wear down, prematurely exposing bone and causing pain when they rub together. Further inflammation of the joint adds to the pain, resulting in lameness, stiffness and lethargy.
Arthritis occurs with:
- Inherited orthopedic (bone) conditions
- Long-term joint wear and tear
- Injury or surgery of the joint
Initially, small, microscopic injuries to the joint capsule and lining causes inflammation. The inflammatory process releases chemicals and enzymes that damage the cartilage of the joint. As the trauma and wear-and-tear continue, the joint enters a vicious cycle of further inflammation. It releases chemicals and enzymes, causing more damage to the cartilage, and then remodels the bone around the joint.
Inherited orthopedic conditions such as osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), fragmented medial coronoid process (FCP), un-united anconeal process (UAP), and hip dysplasia (HD) can lead to dog arthritis at an early age.
- Lameness and stiffness
- Swollen and painful joints
- Wasting of muscle due to less use of leg
- Clicking and grinding of joints (crepitus)
A range of tests or combination of tests by your veterinarian can be done to make the diagnosis and determine the extent of the disease. These tests include:
- A complete medical history and physical examination
- A thorough orthopedic examination
- X-rays of the suspected joints; further imaging with MRI or CT may be helpful
- Force plate analysis – Your dog walks and runs on a plate to evaluate if he is putting equal weight on all legs
- Joint fluid analysis – Joint fluid is sampled to check for infection and other causes of inflammation
There is no single treatment for this chronic disease, but a combination of management therapies that may include the following:
- As most dogs with arthritis are overweight, reducing weight will decrease the load on joints.
- Medical management with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and corticosteroids. These drugs can have serious side effects such as kidney and liver failure, gastric ulceration and vomiting. Long-term use of corticosteroids have been shown to cause cartilage damage.
- Supplementation with Glucosamine & Chondroitin with Green Tea and Reishi . Glucosamine and chondroitin provide cartilage building blocks and assist joint fluid production. This can also be given via injection by your vet in the form of pentosan polysulfate.
- Surgical treatment with the aim to restore pain-free range of motion or stop it altogether. Surgery can include
- Repairing traumatic injuries such as cranial cruciate rupture
- Joint replacement, such as total hip replacement
- Removal of the diseased joint; for example, femoral head and neck excision
- Repairing of inherited orthopedic conditions, such as OCD, FCP, UAP
- Fusion of the painful joint, such as elbow arthrodesis
Preventative measures include:
- Selecting a puppy from a good-quality breeder with a low breeding family history of developmental orthopedic diseases
- Providing proper nutrition to keep your dog from being overweight
- Supplementing with Glucosamine & Chondroitin with Green Tea and Reishi during the early stages of arthritis may slow down the progression of the disease and to save your dog from painful stiff joints. This and other i Love Dogs premium vitamins and supplements can be purchased from our online store.
Warning: Over-supplementation with calcium and excessive exercise can lead to an increased chance of hip dysplasia and other developmental orthopedic diseases in large-breed puppies.