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Arthritis in Dogs | Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Picture of a dog on a rug

Arthritis is an extremely common medical condition that affects about one in five dogs. Much like its clinical manifestations in humans, it is a typically degenerative disease that can be seen in older pets. The inflammation that characterizes arthritis causes stiffness and pain in the joints or in the spine.

Osteoarthritis is caused by normal wear and tear, and rheumatoid arthritis is what happens when the body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Let’s look at some of the symptoms, possible treatments, and even some natural ways to treat arthritis in dogs.

One important aspect that we would like to note is that, since it is a degenerative disease, it is irreversible, especially in old animals. As such, the treatment is only used to alleviate the clinical signs – unfortunately, there is no magic treatment that can make your dog regain his or her joint health.

Canine arthritis – Symptoms

Unlike other medical conditions where you have a set of specific clinical signs that you can watch out for and take your dog to the vet as soon as possible, arthritis happens with time. What that means is that you will most likely notice some symptoms once the joint has already been affected to a certain degree, making the treatment difficult.

Some of the initial symptoms that you might notice, however, range from favoring a limb to a decrease in play or activity. Some dogs will sleep more or just prefer to lay down instead of running around as they used to. Activities such as jumping on and off the couch, running, or just climbing the stairs will be performed with hesitancy, which should give you a clue that a check-up is necessary.

Naturally, for those types of dogs that tend to limp just to get someone’s attention, it might be a little difficult for you to tell whether there’s something really going on or not. But if you notice that the signs that we have mentioned happen for a period of one to two weeks, you definitely have to seek medical assistance for your canine companion.

Diagnosis

Before finding out how to treat a dog with severe arthritis, the veterinarian will have to set a diagnosis. This can be done using imaging methods such as performing an X-ray, for example. You will be asked a lot of questions when you bring your dog in, so be sure to take notes and analyze your canine buddy’s behavior as best as possible.

The vet will examine your dog’s legs to discover which limbs are affected. Sometimes, blood and urine samples might be required so as to understand whether your pet isn’t actually suffering from an infection in the joints. Taking a sample of the fluid in the joint may also be necessary.

How to treat arthritis in dogs

There are many ways of treating your dog’s arthritis, especially nowadays. There are prescription medications, holistic alternatives, as well as nutritional supplements. Whichever of these you might want to choose, it is highly recommended that you first have an honest talk with your vet and only then select the appropriate treatment.

Prescription medication (NSAIDs included) has a lot of side effects, and when you’re trying to treat a senior dog, it might not be a good idea to choose an aggressive treatment. Old animals already have various medical conditions that could have affected their heart or liver (mainly because of old age and other complications).

The approach that we would recommend is to give your dog prescription medication only for several days until the pain subsides, but at the same time, start giving him or her supplements, too. This way, once the most painful symptoms have gone away, you can prevent them thanks to holistic alternatives and supplements. We wouldn’t recommend giving your dog prescription meds on a long-term basis.

Some of the typical NSAIDs that your vet might recommend are Metacam, Previcox, Novox, Deramaxx, Rimadyl, and others. If you do a little research on some of these, you’ll find horror stories about their side effects, and I won’t go into too much detail about that because the information is out there for everyone to see.

The initial period where you do give your dog prescription drugs can be extended if the pain isn’t alleviated, but this is not a good choice for senior dogs. Don’t give your canine companion drugs for months and months, because no matter how healthier they might be in comparison to steroidal anti-inflammatories, these meds can still affect the liver, the kidneys, the stomach, and various organs.

Nutritional supplements

You can try Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and Collagen – all at the same time. There have been many studies that suggest that Glucosamine and Chondroitin have little to no effects when given on their own. However, when they are combined, they can offer some beneficial effects, but we would recommend adding some collagen to the mix. Apparently, when all of these three are given, they provide better results.

MSM is a chemical that’s found in plants and animals and that supplies sulfur to the system. You might have heard that people use it to treat chronic pain, and it can alleviate the symptoms of arthritis and inflammation in dogs, too.

CBD oil is another option you might want to try, and although it is quite controversial, it has plenty of anti-inflammatory effects. Needless to say, it’s natural, so it presents almost no risks at all, and if you are wondering whether it can give your dog the same kind of ‘high’ that marijuana gives to humans, we’ll put your mind at ease by telling you that it is non-psychoactive.

It is a natural pain reliever that can significantly improve the quality of life of an arthritic dog. It doesn’t have any remarkable side effects, and most of all, it doesn’t damage the liver, the kidneys, or the gastrointestinal tract as any prescription drugs might.

You could also try adding some turmeric to your dog’s wet food, for example, but be sure to get a powder that also contains a very low amount of pepper in the mix because giving turmeric to your dog by itself almost has no effect. You can look for homemade dog treat recipes for arthritis and add some CBD oil or turmeric to the main ingredients.

Safe creams and gels

While local treatment is often deemed less effective than its systemic counterpart, the truth is that massaging your dog’s joints with a bit of natural gels that contain menthol and camphor can make a difference. You don’t necessarily have to use anti-inflammatory gels if you do not want to, and of course, the menthol in the cream or gel will most likely bother your dog.

If you find that the smell is overbearing, you can get a cream that contains MSM, Glucosamine and Chondroitin, and more importantly, Arnica. The most important thing to understand when treating an arthritic dog is that consistency is the key to success.

Sometimes, you have to massage your dog’s joints as many as three to four times a day (especially in the beginning of the treatment), and we hate to break it to you, but you’ll have to give your dog supplements for the rest of his or her life. You can take short breaks of one to two weeks, but you’ll eventually have to come back to giving your dog supplements because they can improve joint flexibility and really have a beneficial effect when it comes to alleviating pain.

Holistic alternatives

There is always the option of your dog getting physiotherapy, which might not seem like it does too much but it at least improves your dog’s flexibility and decreases local sensitivity in the joints. Lack of exercise is one of the contributing factors that cause your pet’s stiffness, so sometimes even taking your canine buddy out for a light walk can be beneficial.

Other holistic therapies include massage, acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, and low-impact rehab. You can take your dog to a therapist, learn how to perform the massage yourself, and then do it at home.

Final thoughts

Even though arthritis is an irreversible degenerative disease, there are many things that you can do to treat your dog and help him live a healthy and happy life. Try to avoid giving your dog prescription drugs for a too long amount of time and talk to your vet about alternative treatments such as holistic alternatives, supplements, and CBD oil.

Treating arthritis means maintaining consistency. Just like old people have to take their medication every day, your dog has to, as well, especially if he/she is a senior. Make sure to choose the best and risk-free option with the assistance of your veterinarian.

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