SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Below are some popular questions that arose from recent research conducted by our sponsor Big Barker in conjunction with some of our CAM followers.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs and is believed to affect nearly 40% of all dogs. It is more commonly diagnosed in older dogs, however it is actually a disease of the younger dog. Developmental joint diseases, such as hip dysplasia, elbow developmental disease, osteochondrosis, patellar luxation are the leading cause of arthritis in dogs, and these diseases are prevalent in the young dog. Through identifying and diagnosing these diseases early we can have a significant impact on the resultant arthritis they may suffer later in life.
Arthritis means “inflammation of the joints”, but in truth it is more complex than this.
The bones in a healthy joint have a smooth surface made of a substance called cartilage, which allows the bones to glide past each other when moving around. Arthritis is believed to begin with degeneration of this cartilage and the inflammation it causes. This leads to pain when the joint is moved or weight is placed through it. The capsule that surrounds the joint thickens and new bone is deposited around the margins of the joint. All these changes will commonly cause your dog to appear stiff, lame or unwilling to exercise.
The lack of appropriate use of the joint will lead to the tendons, ligaments and muscles surrounding each joint, which provide support, leading to weakening and further joint degeneration.
Arthritis is a debilitating disease which if left untreated is considered to be one of the main causes of poor animal welfare in companion animals.
The signs of arthritis, in the early stages, differ from dog to dog; our canine companions often have arthritic changes in different limbs, sometimes several, and to varying degrees.
Some notable signs to look out for include, but are not limited to:
- behaviour changes, such as your dog no longer brings a toy to play with you, or has started licking her limbs, or is more short-tempered
- capability changes, where your dog may hesitate before he uses stairs or steps, or stumbles more
- posture and physical changes, your dog shows signs of muscle loss or uneven wear on her nails for example
- gait (movement) changes, which may include limping or other changes such as his normal walking speed may have slowed down for instance.
These are all signs of chronic pain. If you see changes like these in your dog, please consult your vet. They can be signs of other conditions too, which you will want to rule out.
No, canine arthritis develops gradually over time. However, people may feel it has come on suddenly because they have been unaware of earlier signs and only notice their dog is having difficulty when, for example, it starts to limp or finds getting up difficult. Dogs tend not to show pain the way we do and having four limbs allows them to weight-shift and compensate.
Owners need to be on the lookout for changes in their dog’s mobility and posture; the way they walk, run or lie down; their capabilities; the fact they cannot get up the steps without bunny-hopping, or hesitate getting into the car; and behaviour – that they are less enthusiastic during their routine walks, or they choose to sleep more and become less social.
There are many options available in the treatment of arthritis, but best results are seen by combining options to use a multimodal approach. The main principles are to ensure that the dog is not in pain.
Non-Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are considered a first line option. There are also other categories of painkilling drugs that can be used in conjunction with these.
When the dog’s pain levels are controlled there are other adjunct therapies that can be successfully used alongside. These include hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, acupuncture, massage and k laser therapies. Together with the medication and therapies it is important to consider the dog’s weight. Overweight dogs will suffer more pain due to the additional force loading through already sore joints. A 10% reduction in body weight can be as effective as a painkilling drug.
There are many things we can do to treat our arthritic dogs at home, after ensuring that there is proper pain management. A key area is the home itself. Shiny floors are a hazard for arthritic joints through the micro slips that frequently occur – think of having to walk across an ice rink all the time without proper footwear. We can use non-slip rugs and mats on main walkways which will provide safe footing for our dogs or anti-slip tape. Prevent access to stairs, if possible, by using a stair gate. If prevention isn’t possible try to reduce the number of times stairs are used. Give your dog some assistance on the stairs by using a sling or harness to provide additional support. Use ramps for in and out of the car to prevent forceful impact on joints. If you have steps into the garden, can you build/fit a ramp to make it easier for your dog to get in and out.
Use a raised feeder bowl to reduce pressure on joints while your dog eats making mealtimes more enjoyable. Offer feeding toys, puzzles and scatter feeding which help to keep your dog mobile while also stimulating the brain and nose.
Manage exercise daily, through discussion with your vet or therapist. Two or three short walks a day are better than one longer walk.
Ensure that your dog has a good supportive bed, like Big Barker Beds, which will help soothe achy joints and help provide a good night’s sleep. Make sure that the bed is located away from busy areas of the home and is free from draughts.
Keeping our dogs slim and trim by actively managing their weight reduces stress on joints. In fact, fat itself is inflammatory so keep a check on your dog’s body condition score. Ask your vet to show you how to assess your dog and be critical. The loss of a pound or two can make a significant difference in arthritis management.
No, there is currently no cure. Arthritis is a chronic and progressive disease – but by diagnosing it early, treating it effectively and making suitable lifestyle changes, we can slow down its progression.
Weight control, appropriate exercise, and reduction of exacerbating factors at home (eg. Slippery floors, steep stairs) will all help to reduce the progression of arthritis; and ensuring pain is kept well managed, through the medication available, will support your dog’s ongoing quality of life. A number of other exciting treatments and therapies are also available, which target the disease and its effects in a number of ways. Research into arthritis continues.
Osteoarthritis, which is the correct name for the most common type of arthritis, simply means inflammation of the joint. It has many causes, these include poorly formed joints, developmental defects, injury, and instability. A dog may have it in one or two joints, or it may be in many joints. It is a very common disease, with 1 in 5 dogs suffering from it. While mainly diagnosed in older dogs, it is also possible that younger dogs can be affected.
Osteoarthritis will be presented differently by each dog. One dog may limp, another may be less enthusiastic to walk, there may be muscle atrophy or in another dog you may see a change in their temperament. The signs are wide ranging and can be similar to other diseases, including hip dysplasia.
It is a progressive condition, with the slow destruction of the cartilage of the joint, and other degenerative changes in the joint fluid and capsule and underlying bone. However, this progress can be slowed down with the use of a number of modalities, including pain relief, physical rehabilitation and weight control.
Hip dysplasia is a common skeletal condition of dogs. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint, where the rounded surface of a bone moves within a depression on another bone. This allows greater freedom of movement than any other kind of joint. Hip dysplasia is primarily seen in medium to large sizes dogs.
In dogs with hip dysplasia, the ball and socket do not fit or develop properly, and they rub and grind against each other, instead of sliding smoothly. This results in deterioration and damage over time and an eventual loss of function of the joint itself.
The hips are normal at birth but develop instability between 4-12 months of age. There are numerous factors that can contribute to the development of hip dysplasia in dogs, genetics is one of them, but also an excessive growth rate, unsuitable exercise and improper weight will also have an effect on the likelihood and severity of hip dysplasia. Symptoms may vary depending on the severity of the disease, the degree of looseness in the joint and how long the dog has suffered from hip dysplasia.
The symptoms of hip dysplasia can be similar to that of osteoarthritis because as the disease progresses osteoarthritis will set in. It is always important to get a veterinary diagnosis of a musculoskeletal disease to ensure that the dog is treated for the correct disease.
Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a neurological condition, a progressive degenerative spinal cord disease. Over time dogs lose awareness of their hind limbs resulting in paralysis. This condition is not the same as arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative joint disease involving cartilage and bone. In the early stages dogs can present in a similar way with hind limb weakness.
Dogs with DM progress from weakness to ataxia (wobbly) and eventually lose the ability to walk with their hind limbs. In arthritis cases weakness comes from reduced muscle, dogs will change how they load their body weight and move to take the pressure off the arthritic joint/s. Reduction in using the limb causes weakness.
It’s important to have a full veterinary assessment to get an accurate diagnosis.
Yes – arthritis causes chronic pain, and if not controlled, this pain will increase over time. Dogs are masters at hiding early signs of chronic pain, but changes to how they look, how they move, and how they behave are all things to look out for.
Understanding how your dog expresses pain is key to managing this disease proactively, and to letting you know if your interventions are helping.
If you suspect your dog may be experiencing pain, please consult your veterinarian for advice.
Although canine arthritis does not directly reduce lifespan, it can lead to early euthanasia. If the pain from arthritis is controlled, it can turn into chronic pain. Chronic pain is resistant to treatment and causes changes throughout the body such as inflammation and reduced immunity. Dogs with chronic pain that cannot be effectively managed suffer from greatly reduced quality of life and loss of mobility which may result in early euthanasia.
Unfortunately, canine arthritis is still one of the leading causes of early euthanasia in dogs, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Early diagnosis and pain management can prevent the disease from becoming so severe that it shortens a dog’s lifespan. Arthritis is a degenerative disease, which means that once it has started it can not be cured and will get progressively worse. However, this degeneration can be slowed significantly, and the symptoms can be managed so that arthritic dogs live longer and happier lives.
It is important that owners and vets recognise the early signs of arthritis. Prompt treatment of pain and inflammation will reduce the likelihood of the dog developing chronic pain. Since injury exacerbates the disease, avoiding high impact activities like fetch and agility, and adding non-slip rugs and ramps to the home will help arthritic dogs live longer lives. Physical therapies also help the dog keep strong and mobile to support the joints. If multimodal treatment is given in the early stages of arthritis and maintained throughout the dog’s life, osteoarthritis should not need to be fatal.
As osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that involves the breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint, we can reduce the likelihood of it, slow the process with several interventions and manage the associated pain.
Other injuries or malformations of the joint itself such as hip dysplasia, CCL injury, OCD of the shoulder (amongst others) are often precursors to a dog experiencing osteoarthritis in later life.
Early intervention is key to prevention. A significant factor in prevention is weight management, there are numerous studies that prove a direct correlation between canine obesity and developmental osteoarthritis. By ensuring your dog is of a healthy weight there are no excess forces going through their joints. There is also more inflammatory cells present in obese dogs which further aggravate arthritis.
Correct levels of exercise at a young age as well as preventing high-concussion activities such as jumping from high objects, excessive repetitive activity and slipping on flooring should be prevented to protect the joint structures. With these interventions you are slowing the potential for the degeneration process and therefore slowing the onset of symptoms. In some cases, arthritis will still appear as a result of conformation issues but by using preventative measures you are significantly reducing the chance of this happening.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the first line drugs for canine arthritis. These include drugs such as metacam, rimadyl, previcox and onsior which reduce inflammation and pain. There is also a new drug called galliprant which falls into the NSAID family but works lower down in the pain pathway. Individual dogs will react differently to each NSAID and if one doesn’t seem to work or has side effects then it’s a good idea to try another, under veterinary guidance. As with most drugs, NSAIDs can have side effects so it’s important to monitor your dog with regular blood tests.
There are other licensed drugs that can be used in addition to an NSAID, such as tramadol or pardale V. Vets will also sometimes add in human drugs for nerve pain, such as gabapentin, pregabalin, amantadine or memantine.
So, your dog just got diagnosed with Arthritis. The good news is that a diagnosis is the first crucial step which opens many doors to options to help manage this condition for your best friend. Don’t hesitate to talk to your vet about medication options and management. Be guided by your vet about how much exercise they should get and how frequently. Keeping your dog at an optimal weight is particularly important too. There are many medications that are licensed to help treat arthritis in dogs, whether it is mild to moderate stages or more severe. This will be something to review over time with your vet depending upon how your dog is doing.
It can be helpful to keep track of your dog’s symptoms. Making a list of positive and objective markers so that you know when your dog is having a good or a bad day can be so helpful. You can adapt the dog’s environment so that it is easier for him to navigate and to reduce the risk of slips or falls that exacerbate the condition. If you have hard flooring in your home, investing in some inexpensive non-slip rugs or runners can make all the difference to your dog’s mobility and comfort.
Other adaptations might include a ramp for the car, raised feeding bowls and supportive resting places like Big Barker Beds. Supplements may be helpful over time. Make sure to do your research on the quality of the ingredients and the evidence available for these products. There are also a number of therapies that may be beneficial for your pooch from hydrotherapy to physiotherapy and acupuncture to name but a few.
Common home treatments can be administered using a wheat bag, hot water bottle, or chemical heat pack. Heat can be used to warm up joints and muscles before activity and when joints appear to be stiff and sore. Heat causes blood vessels to dilate and get oxygen to the area to aid with soft tissue health. Warmth stimulates nerve receptors in the skin reducing pain signals to the brain. In addition, warmth increases the pliability of soft tissues improving joint flexibility and adding gentle movement to the joint can help with joint lubrication. Be mindful not to apply heat to acute inflammation, so if the sore area is hot and/or swollen heat treatment is not advisable.
Glucosamine is an ingredient found very frequently in both human and dog supplements for Arthritis. The evidence to support its use for people and canines is, however, contradictory.
Glucosamine forms one of the building blocks of cartilage but whether glucosamine taken as a supplement will reach affected joints remains unanswered. There have been some studies showing some effectiveness and others showing it is no better than a placebo.
Glucosamine is unlikely to do any harm to your dog but taken alone it is unlikely to make much, or in deed any, difference.
Osteoarthritis is the progressive, permanent degeneration of cartilage surrounding joints; it can be debilitating for the patient, worrying for the owner and can cause both emotional and financial stress on a client/owner. It is hopefully well known that a multi-modal approach to its management is beneficial to the patient. As part of this management owners are often reaching for supplements believing them to be natural, side effect free options.
There are many claims from many companies that their supplement will show improvement in your dog. The unfortunate truth is that studies have shown very little evidence of improvement and some have shown no improvement for study participants.
The supplement with most evidence to support it is Omega fatty acids (EPA & DHA from marine-based sources such as fish oil).
A common source of Omega-3 is Green Lipped mussel (GLM). It is clear from initial studies that the way the extract is produced is critical for its effectiveness. There is strong evidence of it having a mild to moderate positive effect on mobility and pain in dogs with osteoarthritis, but the number of suitable trials are still considered limited.
Supplements will also take some time to show any improvement, despite advertising claims from manufacturers. On average anything from 6 to 12 weeks may be required before any improvement is seen. Objective markers for good days and bad days should be put in place before starting a course of supplements to monitor objectively for improvement.
As Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes pain and soreness in a dog’s joints, massage can be a plus on slowing down this process. Although it is not a cure, it can ease the pain and stiffness they feel improving their wellbeing. It improves mobility by easing sore muscles and reducing muscular tension, which contribute to slowing down the degeneration of joints, improves their range of motion, their movement and gait. Massage also stimulates circulation to the tissues and helps drainage. Massaging your dog also lowers his blood pressure and enhances the release of endorphins leading to a ‘feel good’ sensation.
To help make a difference you should massage 2 or 3 times a week. The best time is in the morning when they are normally stiff (after sleeping in bed) or in the evening after a more active day where they can be a bit sore.
Baby Aspirin: It should never be given to dogs unless under veterinary direction. Even though ‘baby aspirin’ is of a lower strength, it is still a class of NSAID (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drug) and the risks remain the same. It is a human drug and correct dosage is exceptionally difficult and excess dosing can cause damage to the liver and kidneys. It also can cause damage to the stomach lining, ulcers etc. and even death to very young dogs.
Additionally, a dog might be sensitive to NSAIDs in general so it can cause problems or even harm a dog. As there are so many specific NSAIDs and other evidenced and effective pain killers for dogs only in rare and exceptional cases would a vet prescribe aspirin. So never just give your dog any human medicine without consulting your vet.
CAM can help...
Our mission is to make caring appropriately for your dog with arthritis as stress free as possible, helping you to enjoy your time together with your pet. Doing nothing isn’t an option, so check out all our information on Managing Arthritis, and take a look at all the more active ways we can help, too.