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Dog laying in grass with a ball

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a painful and progressive disease involving joint inflammation, cartilage destruction and eventually bone changes. Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of lameness in dogs and is thought to affect up to 1 in 5 dogs. Although the disease cannot be cured, much can be done to control the associated pain, slow the disease progression and improve the dog’s quality of life.

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  • Osteoarthritis develops in a joint because of congenital (e.g. present at birth) or acquired abnormalities (e.g. traumatic damage) of the joint which lead to abnormal forces on the cartilage and start a vicious cycle of disease. There is progressive joint inflammation and destruction of the cartilage and production of extra bone around the joint. This is a painful disease so dogs often become lame and reluctant to exercise.

  • Osteoarthritis can affect one or more joints and can lead to pain, stiffness, joint swelling, lameness and reduced mobility. This can result in a reduced quality of life and prevent dogs from fully participating in everyday activities such as walking, running and swimming.

    It is not uncommon for owners to misinterpret these signs as a slowing down due to inevitable old age.

    It is important to observe dogs closely for the signs of osteoarthritis, including:

    1. Decreased activity
    2. Reluctance to walk, run, climb stairs, jump or play
    3. Stiffness (worse after rest)
    4. Limping
    5. Difficulty rising from a resting position
    6. Lagging behind on walks
    7. Soreness when touched
    8. Yelping or whimpering in pain
    9. Acting aggressively or withdrawn
    10. Exhibiting other character changes
  • A veterinary examination of your dog can indicate if your dog has osteoarthritis. Dogs show pain when affected joints are manipulated, the range of movement may be reduced and there may be some creaking, which may be heard as cracking or clicking sounds. Muscle is lost because the joint is not used normally. The joint may be enlarged due to an increase in fluid in the joint, or new bone development and/or soft tissue thickening around the joint. X-rays can be taken to confirm the changes in the joint and sometimes it is necessary to take samples of joint fluid to rule out other causes of arthritis.

  • Although canine arthritis is incurable and progressive, it can be managed to control pain and improve quality of life. Following a few simple steps can help your dog considerably,

    • Lighten their load If needed, reducing your pet's weight can significantly decrease the burden on load-bearing joints. Consult your vet for a weight management program for your pet.
    • Get their paws in gear Controlled exercise can help strengthen muscles and joints. To establish an adequate, low-impact routine, consult your vet.
    • Get pain relief from your vet With modern advances in medication, there's no reason for your dog to be slowed down by the pain and discomfort of osteoarthritis.
    • Stick with the program Osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that requires continuous treatment. Although you will probably notice an improvement with medication and therapy, it is important to stick to your vet’s instructions in order to maintain your dog's quality of life.
  • Avoiding excess body weight is the most important thing that an owner can do to prevent or delay the onset of osteoarthritis in their dog. Routine monitoring of your dog’s weight and body condition is key, and your veterinary practice can offer support and dietary advice as necessary.

  • Question: My old dog is very stiff and occasionally lame on his hind legs. He has been diagnosed as having osteoarthritis. Is he in pain?

    Answer: Yes. We know from human experience that living with osteoarthritis is painful and can be very sore indeed. The osteoarthritis is most likely painful for your dog as well, especially if he is lame. You should discuss the need for pain relief with your vet.