Why Doesn’t My Dog Want to Go for Walks Anymore? It Could Be Arthritis
If your adult dog doesn’t want to run and play the way he used to, or seems lazy and reluctant to stand up, he could have arthritis. Other symptoms of arthritis include loss of appetite (because it’s painful for him to lean over to eat), diminished muscle tone (from lack of exercise), irritability, fever, limping, observable pain, and an unwillingness to engage in certain activities, like climbing stairs or jumping up on a chair.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 20% of all adult dogs suffer from arthritis—that number increases to 65% for dogs between the ages of 7 and 11. It’s important to note, however, that dogs of any age can develop arthritis.
What Is Canine Arthritis and What Causes It?
There are two major types of canine arthritis:
1. Degenerative Joint Disease (Osteoarthritis)
This is the more common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs with destruction of the cartilage which protects bones as dogs grow older. Without the cushion cartilage provides, the bones are free to rub against each other, and that friction causes your dog pain. Cartilage can also become inflamed, which can lead to the development of spurs, bony growths which form around the joints.
Generally, dogs don’t present symptoms until osteoarthritis is quite advanced. This is because the cartilage itself has no nerve supply—your dog won’t feel pain until the amount of cartilage cushioning bones has substantially decreased. Osteoarthritis can impact any joint, but occurs most commonly in the joints of the hip, elbows, back, knees and wrists.
2. Inflammatory Joint Disease
Inflammatory joint disease presents symptoms similar to osteoarthritis, but its causes are different. The most common causes of inflammatory joint disease are a bacterial or fungal infection, tick-borne diseases (such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever), and genetic deficiencies, including those involving the immune system.
Are There Risk Factors for Development of Arthritis?
A number of risk factors increase the likelihood that your dog will develop arthritis. These include obesity, age, congenital joint disorders (such as hip and elbow dysplasia), pre-existing injuries, repeated joint trauma, and certain metabolic diseases, such as Cushing’s disease (from high levels of cortisone in the bloodstream) and diabetes.
How Does a Veterinarian Diagnose Arthritis?
Generally, your veterinarian will consider your dog’s medical history and age and ask you questions about his symptoms. She will then examine your dog, in particular his joints, back and limbs, looking for signs of swelling and pain. These steps are usually sufficient for a tentative diagnosis of arthritis, but your vet can also perform diagnostic procedures such as blood tests, urinalysis and x-rays.
What Treatments Are Available to Relieve My Dog’s Pain?
Your veterinarian can recommend both medical and non-medical approaches to relieve your dog’s suffering. The most effective are:
- Weight reduction: Overweight dogs are in more pain because the additional weight puts more stress on joints and increases joint damage. A study from the University of Glasgow concluded that reducing obesity in arthritic dogs substantially decreases the symptoms of arthritis. It’s hard to deny your dog the treats and table scraps he loves most, but if he’s in pain, it’s time to put him on a diet.
- Regular exercise: Exercise will reduce joint stiffness and add to mobility. Work with your vet to develop an exercise regimen that matches your dog’s age and physical condition. In general, 2 or 3 periods of short exercise (15 or 20 minutes each) are better than one long one. Swimming is the best exercise because it puts less strain on joints.
- Diet: Certain fatty acids in your dog’s diet can help. For example, research has shown that certain omega-3 fatty acids, like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), reduce inflammation and cartilage damage.
- Prescription drugs: Prescription drugs which have been effective in treating arthritis include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), steroids, and chondoprotectants (which protect the cartilage).
- Surgery: Procedures such as arthroscopic surgery, in which your veterinarian makes small incisions to remove cartilage debris, and joint replacement might be necessary in cases where joint damage and associated pain are severe.
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When you see your dog in pain, you suffer right along with him. Fortunately, you can work with your veterinarian to design a treatment plan to reduce his pain and improve his quality of life.
At South Boston Animal Hospital, we sincerely love animals and treat your pets like members of our own family. To learn more about our services, contact us today.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.