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Does my dog have arthritis?

Arthritis is a disease causing painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints. The most common in dogs, is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease and can affect dogs of ALL ages, not just older dogs. Osteoarthritis is commonly a secondary condition following such conditions as joint laxity or instability, often termed as dysplasia, and trauma to name a few.

Osteoarthritis is the term referring to a form of chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage.

Two other contributing factors to degenerative arthritis are activity levels and weight. Dogs that are athletic and working dogs are more likely to develop arthritis. Overweight dogs are also at a higher risk for developing arthritis, since their joints are under more stress.

The symptoms can include decreased level of activity, occasional lameness that worsens with exercise and lameness that can be noticeable when rising from rest, after long periods of inactivity, or during cold and damp weather.

Often owners will notice some or all of these symptoms but feel that their dog is not in any pain, as he still wants to wag his tail, play with his ball and still wants to chase squirrels. Instinctively, dogs, like most animals will hide their pain, as it shows a level of weakness, which goes against their survival instinct. Some breeds do seem to have a higher pain tolerance than others. However intelligent they may be, they will not equate the chasing of a squirrel to subsequent lameness or stiffness that will follow.

Cats can also suffer from arthritis. Unfortunately, a lot of cats are injured in road traffic accidents, and the results from these traumas can lead to arthritis.

We know that in humans, arthritis can be extremely painful. Osteoarthritis cannot be cured but it can be managed and give a better quality of life.

Understanding our animal's pain

Describe your own pain. Now, try to understand someone else’s description of their pain. Now try without words.

It is very difficult to ascertain our dog’s pain, but that does not mean that they do not feel it, in fact, we know that they do feel pain.

Some clinical signs of pain are dilated pupils, salivation/lip licking, trembling, increased urination or defecation and poor body or coat condition.

Pain behaviours include abnormal posture (hunched), guarding, abnormal movement(stiffness/lameness), reluctance to move or lie down, aggression, trembling, paying attention (licking or nibbling) the injured area or wound, vocalisation, depression and dullness.

Owners are more likely to address these issues in a younger dog, but they are often overlooked in older dogs. Stiffness and reluctance to exercise are not considered as significant enough to require a vet visit. Owners say things like ‘Just getting old’, ‘A bit stiff' or ‘A bit of arthritis’

Is any of this ringing any bells? If so, then seek veterinary advice. Our animals do not need to be in pain, there are lots of things that we can do as owners to make their lives more comfortable.

Hydrotherapy is one of the ways that we can help manage arthritis in dogs and cats. Yes, I said cats.

Initially they will receive benefit from just being immersed in the warm water, which will help to relax the muscles in the whole body. Dogs with osteoarthritis will often suffer from muscle wastage, as they are unable to create the full range of movement in that area. This in turn will require other parts of the body to share the load, even, if the arthritis is in just one joint, the rest of the body will need to compensate, which can result in a lot of aches and pains all over.

We often hear from owners that they notice a difference within 24 hours of their first session. Depending on the degree of arthritis and the areas affected, will determine what the dogs will be able to achieve. It is never too late for quality of life. We have been able to make many dogs more comfortable in their last few months and in some cases helped to extend their lives.