What does arthritis for dogs mean? The hip, knee and ankle joints in pets are the joints most commonly affected by the deterioration of cartilage. Cartilage is the spongy, protective cushion between the bones where joints meet. When the cartilage begins to break down, that is, to disintegrate, the condition is known as arthritis. As the cartilage wears away, the bones begin to rub together, which causes inflammation, pain and stiffness, and in advanced cases, lameness.
Your beloved pet can’t explain what’s wrong with him or if he’s in pain. So, how do you know if your pet is experiencing arthritic problems and pain? You need to watch for the non-verbal clues and take behavior changes seriously. Here are a few of the classic symptoms of arthritis for dogs:
* Reluctance to go up or down stairs
* Resists jumping up into a car or on furniture
* Tiring easily during walks or walking more slowly than usual
* Increased stiffness, particularly after resting
* Lies down rather than sits or stands
* Favors one limb over others
These are only a few symptoms you may notice in your pet, but there are other, subtle indications in behavior that could also be pointing towards joint pain. Your pet could be sleeping more than usual, gaining weight, being less alert and showing less interest or enthusiasm for play and going for walks. If your dog seems to have symptoms for more than 2 weeks, it is time to take him for an arthritis evaluation by your veterinarian. The best thing you can do for your pet is to get a diagnosis and begin a prescribed arthritis treatment for dogs plan of management.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are commonly prescribed as a pain medication for dogs. Pain medication will only mask the problem, however, so treatment may expand to include special foods and over the counter products that contain glucosamine and chondroitin, which works to support the cartilage in the joints. Omega fatty acids are also known to increase cartilage health. Your dog may have to go on a diet to decrease the extra pounds that are causing unnecessary stress on already sore joints. Adding fiber to you dog’s diet should help your pet lose those extra pounds. There are even topical treatments available to relieve joint and muscle soreness.
In addition to managing diet, prescriptions and over the counter aids for your pet, there are some lifestyle changes that will also help to manage your dog’s arthritis. Low impact exercises, like leash walking, swimming and going up and down stairs, provide for good range of motion and muscle building while limiting wear and tear on the joints. Daily exercise is best, and warming your dog’s muscles prior to exercise and including a cool down period is beneficial. Cold, damp weather and conditions tend to aggravate arthritis, so provide your pet with a warm, dry place to sleep and spend his times. A pet sweater will help keep those joints warmer during colder days.
Your veterinarian may prescribe massage or physical therapy, which have proven to be very beneficial therapies in pain relief for dogs, as part of your dog’s treatment. The veterinary staff will show you how to massage and perform physical therapy to relax your dog’s stiff muscles and promote a better range of motion in the joints. When beginning this type of therapy, remember to take it slowly; you need to build trust with your pet. You can start by petting him around and on the area where you intend to work. You will gently work up to kneading the muscles around the joint, using your fingertips in a small, circular motion. Gradually work your way out to the surrounding muscles. At all times, massage and physical therapy should be done in a warm, relaxed and safe environment. Make this experience as comfortable as possible for both you and your dog.
Overall, you want to work closely with your veterinarian to manage your dog’s arthritic condition. Your goal is to provide the best treatment and supportive lifestyle that will decrease the degeneration of the cartilage between joints, alleviate joint pain, and keep your pet as healthy as possible. Remember, arthritis doesn’t go away, but effective, managed arthritis treatment for dogs can ensure that you will both enjoy the coming years together.