Arthritis is a common disease that affects one out of five dogs during their lifetime. The most common form of arthritis is referred to as “osteoarthritis” or “degenerative joint disease” that can attack any joint in the body, including the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, neck, and back. The problem occurs when the cartilage within the joints begins to degenerate. The purpose of the tissue is to lubricate the joint and prevent the ends of the adjoining bones from rubbing together. Over time, this process leads to reduced joint mobility and pain.
Most cases occur in dogs with an inherited orthopedic disease or hip dysplasia, or those with a joint injury. The problem isn’t confined to older dogs, as many other joint conditions can cause degenerative arthritis, even in young dogs. Large-breed dogs are affected more often than small dogs. Heavy dogs are more likely to experience symptoms than slim and trim dogs.
Arthritis sufferers exhibit varying degrees of lameness, stiffness, and joint pain, more apparent in the morning or after getting up from a nap. As the disability increases, they often exhibit irritability and behavioral changes. Cold and damp surroundings add to their pain and stiffness. Degenerative arthritis is progressive, and in time can make the dog’s life miserable.
Arthritis is incurable, but treatment can substantially improve his life. Treatment involves physical therapy and weight control, analgesics and corticosteroids to relieve pain and improve function, and the use of chondroprotective agents to repair joint cartilage and prevent further damage. Acupuncture is another therapy that has shown good results for arthritic dogs. In severe cases, surgical fusion of painful joints may relieve pain and restore limb movement.
Research has shown that glucosamine can dramatically ease the symptoms of pet arthritis. This natural supplement can take several months of daily doses before any benefits are experienced, and it can actually help rebuild the damaged tissue caused by the disease.
Moderate exercise is beneficial because it maintains muscle mass and preserves joint flexibility. Excessive exercise, however, is counterproductive. Swimming is an excellent exercise that improves muscle mass without overstressing the joints.
Talk with your veterinary physical therapists; they can help design an exercise and weight loss program specifically for your pet.