Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Understanding Canine Arthritis

By Ruthie Bently

As our canine companions get older they are susceptible to many of the same conditions of aging that affect humans; arthritis is one of these conditions. A dog’s skeletal system is comprised of not only their bones, but also the tendons and ligaments that give overall stability to the skeleton. Though they are not bones, an injury to tendons and ligaments can affect the onset of arthritis in our dogs too. Symptoms of arthritis are lagging behind during walks, limping, the inability to rise easily after resting, resistance to being touched, changes in their personality, a hesitancy to climb stairs, play, jump or even simply walking.

Arthritis is caused by an inflammation in the joints. It is usually divided into two categories: inflammatory joint disease and osteoarthritis, which is known as degenerative arthritis. Each one of these is divided into sub-categories. Inflammatory arthritis can affect multiple joints at the same time and is caused by an underlying disease that affects the dog’s immune system or an infection (infectious joint disease). Some symptoms can include stiffness, anorexia and fever. Infectious joint disease has several causes, which include a fungal infection, a tick borne disease like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease or a bacterium. Arthritis that affects the immune system can be brought on a hereditary weakness. There are several types including idiopathic arthritis and systemic lupus which cause infections in the joints but are not degenerative. Rheumatoid arthritis which is a deformative arthritis is the third kind, but is rare in dogs.

Osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) is caused when the cartilage that protects bone joints is destroyed. This can happen when undue stress is put on normally healthy joints. Some examples of undue stress are injuries received during an accident or fall; or the tearing or hyperextension of ligaments during strenuous exercise which can include constantly jumping over an obstacle. It is also caused by stress put on abnormal joints because of issues like hip dysplasia, which is due to the hip bones not being properly formed. Osteoarthritis also has subcategories; primary and secondary disease. Primary osteoarthritis is one that there is no evident cause for, while secondary has a specific cause. Some of the causes of the secondary disease are ruptured knee ligaments, injury, patella luxation, and OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) as well as hip dysplasia. My vet mentioned that Skye may suffer from arthritis as she ages because of the damage to the ligaments in her left leg.

While arthritis is primarily a condition of our dogs aging, it can also be suffered by a younger dog. A larger breed dog with rapid growth spurts should be watched, especially if the breed is one that is genetically disposed to dysplasia or OCD. Responsible pet owners who carefully monitor their dog’s diet can keep their weight in line and help prevent this from happening. Owners with dogs that have arthritis may not notice anything wrong for quite some time. Cartilage doesn’t have nerves and joint damage may not be apparent until there is a severe joint problem and the fluid that lubricates the joints is critically depleted.

If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, there are several treatment options to consider. If a dog is overweight, this will put added stress on their joints, and your vet may suggest a weight reduction to alleviate this. If caught in time, surgery can sometimes stop or prevent osteoarthritis. While anecdotal, there is evidence that acupuncture can help a dog with arthritis. Laser therapy has also been used with good results. Consider getting an orthopedic dog bed or heated mat for them to lie on. Some veterinarians will suggest a nutraceutical in an attempt to rebuild the lost fluids around the joints. Your veterinarian may suggest an over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (nsaid) for pain or a prescription drug for more severe arthritis.

As arthritis can be due to several causes, there are different treatments for each one. So what’s a responsible pet owner to do? Pay close attention to your dog’s moods and body language. If your normally happy dog is being crotchety, seems to take longer to get up after a nap or doesn’t want to participate in their regular routine, and you suspect your dog may have arthritis, a trip to the vet is in order.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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