While it is possible for dogs, like people, to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (when the body’s own immune system attacks the joints), the most common arthritis in dogs and humans alike is osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD). This is largely due to wear and tear of the joint cartilage over the years, but can also be caused by developmental issues.
Arthritis in dogs is very common, especially as they get older. Larger breeds, such as Labradors or German Shepherds, are more susceptible than smaller ones – a common cause of early-onset arthritis in large breeds is hip and elbow dysplasia, which occurs when either of those joints hasn’t formed properly.
Spotting the signs
Recognising early symptoms of arthritis and the subtle indications of pain is helpful, as the sooner any problems with your dog’s joints are treated, the better. You may well notice that your dog is less agile, struggles to get up after a lie down, is limping, has difficulty climbing stairs, or shows stiffness after activity or resting. The stiffness associated with arthritis is actually due to pain, so if you notice these signs you should take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
How to help your dog
Arthritis is diagnosed by a thorough examination and X-rays to pinpoint the cause so treatment can target the right place. While arthritis caused by wear and tear can’t be reversed, there’s a lot that can be done to ease and slow down its progress so your dog can still enjoy a good quality of life.
Controlling your pet’s weight to avoid persistent strain on the joints is the number one priority. Special diets may be needed to help a dog shed weight and minimise further joint damage. Pain relief is important too, using vet-prescribed, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as well as other painkillers. Your dog’s nutritional needs should be met with a balanced diet tailored to his size and breed, and dietary supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3s may also be helpful.
The best care is a comprehensive treatment strategy specially tailored to your individual dog. This might include physiotherapy, and even acupuncture and hydrotherapy, to relieve the stiffness and increase the range of movement. With the right treatment and care your dog can still enjoy the things in life that he loves.
Find out more about common illnesses dogs can suffer from on our interactive pet health profiles page.