This article has been kindly contributed by our good friend at Muzzle to Muscle canine rehabilitation specialist.
What are the signs and how can you ease your arthritic dog's pain?
Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a common degenerative condition of the joints. It tends to occur mainly in the hip, knee (stifle), elbow, wrist (carpus), shoulder and spine (intervertebral joints), although it is not limited to these areas, and can be found anywhere there is a joint and cartilage.
Most cases of canine arthritis simply come from old age and wear and tear of the joint, but unfortunately this disease is not limited to our senior pets. Other causes may include poor nutrition, obesity, trauma or damage to the bones or joints, or poor development of your dog's bony structure. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is often the same, inflammation of the joints and irritated nerve endings, resulting in stiffness, pain and a loss of the desire to participate in everyday activities.
So, how do you know if your dog has arthritis? There are a few simple signs that you can look for that may indicate arthritis.
Reluctance to walk, or inability to walk as far
Stiffness - most obvious when trying to get up from resting
Difficulty climbing stairs, getting into the car or up onto furniture
Limping or an unusual gait
Less active, sleeping more, less willing to play
Guarded and protective, or snappy when you try to touch certain areas
Ok, your vet has confirmed a diagnosis of arthritis, what now? Here are some simple things you can do to help alleviate the associated pain:
Maintain an appropriate body weight The single most effective thing you can do for your dog, is to maintain them at an appropriate weight. Getting rid of any excess kilos will be beneficial in relieving the signs and symptoms of arthritis, as they won't have any unnecessary weight on their already compromised joints. The general rule is: you want to be able to feel your dog's ribs, but not see them protruding, and you want to see a waistline, not a barrel! ( Body Condition Score chart from WSAVA - click here to read the full article)
Maintain light exercise It is extremely important that you keep your dog moving (unless they are showing signs of pain). Exercise should be regular and not too strenuous, lying around all day is not great for stiff, sore joints. Gentle lead walks and swimming in warm water are great ways to keep your dog moving. You want to make sure that you do not push your dog too far, if they start to lag behind, this may be an indication that they are fatiguing or are experiencing some pain and discomfort. Walking on an underwater treadmill is ideal as they are moving in a reduced weight bearing environment, in a controlled manner, allowing those joints to move and your pooch to maintain muscle mass without any strain on the joints.
Provide adequate shelter/bedding Ensure that your dog has adequate protection from the elements like wind and rain, and that he has bedding which is easily accessible (not too soft, too high or has sides which make it hard to access), so they can get in and out without any strain. Bedding should be warm and padded, enough so that the joints are not directly on the cold hard floor. A memory foam mattress is ideal as it contours to your dog's body.
Consider dietary supplements Your vet may recommend dietary supplements, or changing your dog's diet all together. These are both valid recommendations. Dietary supplements aim to support the cartilage, reducing further deterioration, suppressing inflammation and reducing free radical damage. Supplements will include things like glucosamine and chondroitin, green lipped muscle and omega fatty acids. These can be added to your dog's normal diet, or you can purchase a diet that already has these added to it. Our Happy Joy-int wheat free dog biscuits contain Green lipped mussels and Turmeric to help providing your pooches with extra glycosaminoglycans and anti inflammatory agents to improve your pooch's joints.
Apply heat to the affected joints It is best to apply heat to the joint prior to exercise or to your dog getting up, this will ensure full benefit of the movement they are about to do. Heat therapy will benefit your dog by helping to increase blood flow to the joint, increase tissue metabolism and stretchability, and help to decrease pain and stiffness.
Massage can help reduce pain and stiffness, making it easier for them to get to their feet, stabilise themselves, and move about comfortably. It also promotes circulation, bringing nutrients and warmth to extremities, and assists with keeping muscles toned and slowing atrophy and musculoskeletal degeneration. You can perform basic massage at home or seek the skills of a professional. Photo courtesy of Muzzle to Muscle.
Raise food and water dishes This is especially important for those dogs who have arthritis in the front limbs or their neck. Bending down can often cause pain and tension, so raising their food dishes can help alleviate this and allow them to eat pain free. Some people may notice that their pet loses weight or does not seem as interested in their food, this may be due to pain associated with eating. (How awesome is this recycled pallet bowls stand by Pallet_Revive.)
Slip free floor Your dog may struggle with slippery surfaces around the home such as tiles, timber floors or wet concrete. This may be due to reduced muscle mass and strength and reduced balance. Some strategically placed non slip rubber matting, or dog boots designed for this purpose, will assist with your dogs ability to move about freely and confidently. (Antislip boots from Ruffwear)
Educate Children and Guests It is vitally important to recognise that your arthritic pet may experience pain. A senior arthritic pet in pain will be less tolerant to young boisterous children and may become snappy. This is their way of letting you know that they have had enough and wish to be left alone. Learn to read the warning signs and do not punish your dog for telling you and others. Teach young children to respect elderly pets, it is not ok to roll around on top of them, pull their tail or sit on them. Teach guests where they can approach your dog from and remember that they are not as fast as they used to be and may get under foot.
Please do not hesitate to contact Muzzle To Muscleon 0427 014 501 or at firstname.lastname@example.org you suspect your pet might have an arthritis and joint/muscle problem. They also stock and recommend a number of products that may assist with your pet's mobility.
Some foods can help your dog to feel calmer because these foods contain essential Vitamin B3 which has been shown to support a healthy nervous system. You can prevent Vitamin B3/Niacin deficiencies by supplementing their diet with Niacin-Rich foods.