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Dog Arthritis

Friday February 20th, 2009

Arthritis is often assumed to be a senior dog disease. While it certainly does strike dogs in their golden years, younger dogs are susceptible, too.

Arthritis is an inflammation in a joint. It gets worse over time, and may begin as simple morning stiffness and progress to lameness and swollen, painful joints. The good news is that while arthritis is incurable, treatment can make your dog feel a whole lot better.

Causes

There are three main types of arthritis, each triggered by different factors:

Osteoarthritis may be a result of age but can also be caused by a joint injury or another condition--such as hip dysplasia or a ruptured cruciate ligament--in younger dogs. Heavy stress on joints, such as jumping over obstacles or strenuous exercise, can also be a culprit. It's common in many large-breed dogs, and overweight dogs are more susceptible because of the increased pressure on their joints.

Immune-mediated arthritis occurs when a dog's antibodies--which should keep him healthy--are instead directed at his own connective tissue. It can result in the destruction of the joint and cartilage, or it may cause only inflammation in the joint.

Infectious arthritis is caused by infectious diseases such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Another cause is bacteria entering the bloodstream from an infected wound.

When it's time to see a vet

  • Your dog seems less interested in his morning walk.
  • He hesitates to climb stairs.
  • He has trouble rising when lying down.
  • He yelps when touched (or resists being touched when he used to love it).
  • He has morning stiffness that improves throughout the day.
  • He has swollen joints.
  • He exhibits lameness in one or more limbs.

Your vet can make a diagnosis using X-rays, blood work, and an analysis of joint fluid. X-rays are also important for monitoring the disease's progression and for adjusting treatments to keep your dog as pain-free as possible.

What's next

If X-rays indicate a deformed joint is causing the problem, your vet may recommend surgery, which may halt the progression of the disease. Typically, your vet will prescribe medications and painkillers.

Drug treatments:

  • Painkillers such as Rimadyl are popular, and are well tolerated by most dogs. If used long-term, your dog may need periodic testing to ensure his liver hasn't been damaged.
  • Palaprin is "doggie aspirin." It's a buffered aspirin designed for dogs, and it can prevent the intestinal irritation that's a common reaction to regular aspirin.
  • Adequan is an injection given over a course of weeks. It's a pain reliever, but it also helps repair cartilage damage while encouraging the production of joint fluid.

Other treatments:

  • If trauma is the cause, surgery may be required to repair ligaments.
  • Slimming down overweight dogs can ease the pressure on joints.
  • Acupuncture has relieved pain in some dogs, and in the best-case scenarios, may eliminate the need for medication.
  • Exercise can keep joints active and healthy. Just keep it fairly low-impact so it doesn't make sore joints even more painful.
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