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arthritis in dogs

Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis, also called osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD), occurs when joint cartilage degrades over time, causing pain and limiting joint movement. Because arthritis is very common in aging dogs, it's important to be able to recognize the signs and care for your pet appropriately. Keep reading for more information!

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Why should I worry about my dog’s arthritis?

This process is degenerative, progressive, and irreversible. Fluid builds up inside the joint, the cartilage can become thin, and small bony outgrowths (osteophytes) can develop around the joint. All of these processes cause chronic pain and inflammation.

Approximately 25% of dogs are diagnosed with DJD, though an additional 35% may go undiagnosed until found accidentally on x-rays. Osteoarthritis can affect dogs of any age, gender, and breed. Certain conditions that may lead to arthritis, such as hip dysplasia, are more common in certain breeds.

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

Primary arthritis often affects multiple joints. This is considered a disease of cartilage associated with aging

Secondary arthritis usually involves a single joint. Causes of secondary arthritis include:

  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Bacterial or fungal
  • Joint fluid, cartilage, or bone
  • Immune-mediated diseases
  • Developmental malformations (hip or elbow dysplasia)
  • Abnormal cartilage congruency, joint capsule anatomy, joint incongruity, joint malalignment

Clinical Signs of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

  • Lameness/limping (periodic, progressive, or persistent)
  • Stiffness is common after periods of rest but may improve with activity
  • Limping may worsen with overexertion
  • Joint swelling
  • Pain
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Muscle wasting/atrophy due to limb disuse
  • Thickening and scarring of the joint membrane (pericapsular fibrosis)
  • Grating/grinding sound during movement (crepitus)

Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs

If you suspect that your dog has arthritis, schedule an appointment to have her examined by a vet. Your vet can perform an orthopedic physical exam to check for joint subluxation and luxation (displacement, out of the joint socket). Sometimes this type of exam requires mild sedation to ensure that your dog remains comfortable.

X-rays can show an increase in joint fluid, soft tissue swelling around the joint, osteophytes, hardening and thickening of bone, and/or narrowed joint spaces. X-rays may also help your vet identify underlying disorders such as hip dysplasia, torn ligaments, etc.

An arthrocentesis (aspirate of joint fluid with a needle) may be recommended to culture for bacterial or fungal growth, examine the joint fluid under a microscope (large numbers of synovial cells are a common finding with arthritis), and evaluate the cell types.

A CT scan is helpful to visualize joint abnormalities, especially prior to surgery.

Treatment Options for Arthritis in Dogs

There is no cure for arthritis, only therapies that help control it. Treatment is either medical or surgical (or both). The goals are to lessen pain, improve joint range of motion, and minimize degeneration of the joint.

Medical Management of Arthritis

  • Weight loss, exercise on soft surfaces, avoid slick surfaces
  • Warm compress affected joints
  • Oral NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication) or steroids, neuromuscular pain medication, opioids
  • Glucosamine/chondroitin supplements, Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin E, Green-Lipped Mussel
  • Acupuncture
  • Cold or warm laser therapy
  • Intra-articular stem cell therapy
  • Rehabilitation, hydrotherapy, passive range of motion, and stretching exercises

Surgical Management of Arthritis

  • Dependent upon the affected joint, age and weight of the dog, health status of the dog
  • Arthrodesis (joint fusion) of the carpus/tarsus (wrist/ankle), total hip replacement, femoral head and neck osteotomy, amputation, and more
  • Response to surgery can vary depending on joint affected and procedure performed

Read more:

Nothing to bark about! Causes of Limping in Dogs (and what you should do!)

Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Dogs

Medial Patellar Luxation (MPL) in Pets

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