A Vet Answers the top 10 Questions About Dog Arthritis
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Does your once-active dog seem to be slowing down? Dog arthritis can cause healthy dogs to behave differently due to discomfort in the hip and other joints––and dog arthritis doesn’t play favorites. Arthritis symptoms can affect dogs young and old, pure breeds and mixed breeds, and dogs of all sizes and activity levels. So when should you worry about your dog’s arthritis outlook?
We shared some of the most-asked questions from pet parents about dog arthritis with Dr. Patrick Mahaney, celebrity house-call veterinarian and member of our team of Vet Experts. Dr. Mahaney is a certified veterinary acupuncturist who knows the musculoskeletal system better than anyone. He’s the perfect resource for learning more about dog arthritis!
Before we get to the most frequently asked questions about dog arthritis, let’s discuss what it is, how it happens, and signs your dog might be affected.
What is dog arthritis?
Signs of dog arthritis
- Stiffness in affected joints
- Excessive licking of legs or paws
- Localized tenderness
- Irritability or aggression when arthritic areas are touched
- Limping or a noticeably slower gait
- Loss of appetite or fever (specifically in immune-mediated forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis)
- Muscle atrophy, trembling, or weakness
- Swelling in legs
- Reluctance or inability to participate in regular activity and exercise
10 questions about dog arthritis answered by a veterinarian
If your veterinarian confirms that arthritis is to blame for your dog’s symptoms, you might have a follow-up question (or two or three!). We asked veterinarian, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, to answer commonly asked questions from pet parents about dog arthritis––including breed-specific insights, treatment options, and more.
1. Are certain dog breeds prone to arthritis?
“Yes, certain breeds (and their mixes) are prone to arthritis, but chondrodysplastic breeds also come to mind.
Chondrodysplasia involves a malformation of the musculoskeletal system's cartilage, bones, and other structures. This condition can set a dog up for painful arthritis, even when young. Chondrodysplastic breeds include the Basset Hound, English and French Bulldogs, Corgi, Dachshund, and Pekingese.
Other non-chondrodysplastic breeds are prone to arthritis, especially large and giant dog breeds like the Great Dane, Golden and Labrador Retriever, Mastiff, Newfoundland, and Saint Bernard. These breeds can expect arthritis, secondary hip and elbow dysplasia, and other joint developmental malformations.”
2. Is there a connection between dog arthritis and cold weather?
“Yes, there can be a connection between dog arthritis and cold weather. Colder weather generally slows a dog's blood flow around the body, affecting all body systems–especially non-vital structures like joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other musculoskeletal support structures.
As a result, reduced blood flow to the joints can make an arthritis-prone dog feel stiffer and more uncomfortable in cold weather.”
3. What are the best dog beds for arthritis?
“For dogs with arthritis, I generally prefer beds that offer cushioned support from materials like memory foam. Our canine companions might have individual preferences that supersede our choice of bedding, so you may need to test a few types of bedding to suit your dog's individual arthritis needs.
Warmth can promote blood flow to the joints and other musculoskeletal structures, so most dogs with arthritis seek out beds and other surfaces that provide heat. If a dog’s arthritis inflammation is severe, beds made from cooler, more breathable materials might be a better option to combat swelling and dull pain receptors.”
4. What’s the best dog food for arthritis?
“There's not necessarily one ‘best dog food for arthritis,’ but some dog foods contain proteins, carbohydrates, and other food allergens that make dog arthritis worse.
If a dog is known to have a food allergy, the digestive tract, skin, and other organ systems can be affected by inflammation caused by an allergic response. Pet parents must pay attention to their canine companions' digestive patterns and skin and coat appearance when consuming certain foods and treats. Monitoring food intolerances can help minimize adverse responses, including negative impacts on the joints and other musculoskeletal tissues.
My canine patients have better overall health and reduced arthritis pain when fed a human-grade, cooked, whole-food diet.”
5. Can I try a dog massage for arthritis?
“Yes, dog massage can be an excellent way for pet parents to be involved in their dog's arthritis management. I recommend pet parents consult with their veterinarian to outline an arthritis-management plan (including massage) that can be established specifically for the dog’s needs.
Massage is commonly part of the treatment provided at veterinary physical rehabilitation facilities. So if the general practice veterinarian isn’t comfortable advising on massage, pet parents should consult a certified veterinary physical rehabilitation specialist.
Pet parents must learn how to massage a dog with arthritis in a way that’s safe for the animal. If the treatment is too aggressive or inappropriate for the dog’s needs, clinical signs of discomfort can worsen––as can the pet’s quality of life.”
6. Can I try acupuncture for dogs with arthritis?
“Yes––acupuncture can be beneficial for dog arthritis. In my veterinary practice, I use multiple types of acupuncture as part of a multi-modal approach to pain management.
Pet parents can still use conventional arthritis medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for their dog’s arthritis. However, alternative therapies like acupuncture can reduce a dog's reliance on NSAIDs and other medications. Complementary and alternative medicine (“CAM”) treatments can include acupuncture, herbs, supplements, physical rehabilitation, weight management, and environmental and lifestyle modifications.
Dogs with blood clotting abnormalities–or who are reactive to acupuncture needles–are less-ideal candidates for treatment, so pet parents should discuss the best options with their veterinarian.”
7. Do arthritis injections for dogs work?
“Arthritis injections can be beneficial, especially for dogs with chronic or severe arthritis. There are multiple options for arthritis injections for dogs, but one recommended medication is Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan or Adequan Canine.
Adequan is a sterile extract of bovine (cow) tracheal cartilage that provides the building blocks of healthy joint surfaces. Adequan is a medication proven to have more benefits for dog arthritis than giving oral joint supplements alone, as it doesn’t rely on the digestive tract for absorption into the bloodstream.
Oral joint support supplements can still be beneficial for dogs getting Adequan injections. Many supplements have ingredients that promote joint and tissue health in addition to natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Adequan is a repeated series of injections (into the muscle or under the skin) that taper to a less-frequent maintenance course over four weeks or as directed. Giving Adequan can be conveniently given by trained pet parents at home or administered by veterinary technicians at the veterinary hospital.”
8. Should I be giving my dog arthritis meds?
“Not all dogs will need medication for their arthritis; the need for a dog to take arthritis medications depends on the severity of the discomfort they’re experiencing.
Dogs with chronic arthritis may need non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or pain-numbing medications to improve comfort and quality of life. One pain medication is Gabapentin, which lessens the brain’s ability to receive, create, or send pain signals. There are also opiates like Tramadol, which target receptors in the central nervous system to reduce pain signals between the brain and the body.
Other dogs infrequently require such medications and can maintain a comfortable state through the multi-modal approach to pain management.”
In managing dog arthritis, the multi-modal approach strives to minimize reliance on medication that can have side effects (digestive, kidney, liver, etc.) by using multiple means of treatment, including:
- Joint support medications (e.g., Adequan Canine)
- Joint support supplements (e.g., Vetnique Labs Activebliss Hip & Joint Chews, Vetnique Seniorbliss All-In-One Chews)
- Anti-inflammatory supplements (e.g., Turmeric, omega fatty acids)
- Antioxidant supplements (e.g., Vitamins C and E, Boswellia Extract)
- Laser treatment
- Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (tPEMF™) therapy
- Physical rehabilitation
- Environment and lifestyle modification
- Weight management
9. How long can a dog live with arthritis?
“The great news is that a dog with arthritis can live for years beyond their diagnosis––but severe arthritis can limit a dog’s comfort, mobility, and overall quality of life. Pet parents can improve these issues with a conscientious approach to pain management with guidance from their veterinarian.
Unfortunately, arthritic dogs regularly taking NSAIDs or pain-numbing drugs are more prone to side effects in the digestive tract, kidney, liver, and other internal organs. As a result, these side effects can limit their ability to take medicines that help to relieve discomfort and improve mobility.
Intolerance of arthritis medications–or the inability to achieve a more comfortable state through the multi-modal approach to pain management–could limit the lifespan of a dog with arthritis.”
10. What are the signs of end-stage arthritis in dogs?
“The signs of end-stage arthritis can be subjective in dogs. For pets with end-stage symptoms, pet parents can struggle with knowing when to euthanize a dog with arthritis––and must partner and communicate closely with their veterinarian to understand this delicate process.
With advanced arthritis, dogs can have occasional or frequent bad days regarding their ability to stand, walk, and participate in everyday activities. Other days may be average or good, pending the dog’s overall condition. Alternating good and bad days can lead to uncertainty in a pet parent’s perception of their dog’s condition, as can the dog’s tolerance of or response to arthritis medications.
To track their dog’s progress, I recommend pet parents take notes in a calendar on their pet’s daily comfort and overall quality of life. If there are more bad days than good days, then the treatment plan should be reassessed to see if modifications can be made to improve the day-to-day quality of life.
If the treatment plan cannot be modified in a way that consistently helps, or if the dog’s quality of life is too severely compromised, then pursuing an end-of-life plan is appropriate.”
It’s not easy seeing our furry friends struggle with joint pain, but we hope Dr. Mahaney’s advice can help all of the pet parents who care for a dog with arthritis. No matter the cause of your dog’s arthritis, knowing the basics of arthritis care can help you give your pet a better quality of life so that you can continue to make memories together!
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