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Degenerative Joint Disease: Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a change in the dog’s joints that is associated with severe pain and restricted mobility. It cannot be cured, but there are many ways you can give your dog relief. But even more important is the prevention of joint diseases, which at best begins as early as puppyhood.

What is Osteoarthritis in Dogs?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints. This means that the affected dog’s joint changes and its normal function are restricted. The joint cartilage, a protective layer on the two ends of the bone (joint head and joint socket), which together form the joint, is particularly affected by osteoarthritis.

This cartilage consists mainly of collagen, is very elastic, and has the function of a shock absorber.

When your dog has osteoarthritis, this joint cartilage changes, loses elasticity, and cracks. The result is inflammation, pain, and restrictions in movement. The hip joints, leg joints, and joints in the spine are particularly affected.

Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis is a typical symptom of aging in dogs. In older dogs, the elasticity of the articular cartilage changes, making it more likely that osteoarthritis will develop. However, there are many other factors that can be responsible for the occurrence of osteoarthritis:

  • Too much stress on the joints;
  • Obesity;
  • Operations;
  • Malnutrition in puppy and young dog times;
  • Joint inflammation or arthritis if it is not recognized and treated in time;
  • Pre-existing conditions such as hip dysplasia, patellar dislocations;
  • Too little or too much exercise.

In adult dogs, too little exercise can have a negative effect and lead to reduced production of synovial fluid, so that here too the wear and tear of the joints progresses.

But the opposite is also dangerous: If dog sports such as agility are practiced for years, which stress the joints too much, this can also lead to osteoarthritis.

Constant fetching with sudden stops is also a very joint-damaging occupation.

Primary Osteoarthritis and Secondary Osteoarthritis

In rare cases, parents can pass a genetic predisposition to osteoarthritis to younger dogs. Then there is talk of primary osteoarthritis, which, however, is much rarer than the secondary osteoarthritis mentioned above. This particularly affects large breeds of dogs, which generally suffer from joint problems more often. These include the Great Dane, the German Shepherd Dog, the Labrador, or the Golden Retriever.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Stiff movements and lameness are the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis, and they get worse over time. It is becoming more and more difficult for the dog to get up. If a dog suffers from osteoarthritis of the spinal column, the so-called spondylosis, his entire movement is stiff. Your dog will avoid jumping and playing less. Likewise, the desire for walks can decrease.

Dogs occasionally react to pain when they touch the affected areas with defenses. Affected joints can be warm and swollen, but not always.

Start-up pain is typical of osteoarthritis.

After a rest, your dog initially has problems walking, but then runs in. This is due to the fact that synovial fluid is formed as you move and the joints become more flexible so that the pain subsides or even disappears when you run. In severe, advanced osteoarthritis, the affected dog shrinks less and less.

Overview of the Signs of Osteoarthritis

  • Problems getting up (especially in the morning);
  • Not in the mood for exercise;
  • Start-up pain;
  • Stiff limbs;
  • Hard, swollen, or warm joints;
  • Pain to the touch.

How is Osteoarthritis Diagnosed in Dogs?

If osteoarthritis is suspected, the attending vet will first x-ray your dog and examine the joint bones. He will also arrange a blood count.

Degree of Severity of Osteoarthritis

The severity of this disease can be divided into four levels. The first symptoms can occur even if the cartilage cracks slightly. In the case of very severe osteoarthritis, as the disease progresses, the cartilage layer is no longer present in places and the bones rub against each other. As a result, damage to the bones occurs and, due to the friction, bone deposits form on the sides, which makes normal movement impossible. The affected joint becomes increasingly stiff.

  • Severity I – The dog’s articular cartilage shows the first superficial changes, but still without cracking.
  • Severity grade II – The first superficial cracks are visible on the affected articular cartilage.
  • Severity III – The cartilage layer shows clear, deep cracks so that it can no longer fulfill its normal function.
  • Severity IV – The cartilage layer is already so badly damaged that the bone is exposed.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis: Pain Relievers

The conventional medical treatment of osteoarthritis usually consists of pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. It is essential that the dog no longer suffers pain, because only then will he give up his relieving posture and use the joints correctly again. Then the joint fluid, which is so important, is produced again in the joints, which in turn relieves other joints.

Injections into the joint are also possible. If the inflammation is severe, anti-inflammatories are injected directly into the joint. With hyaluronic acid therapy, however, hyaluronic acid, a natural component of the synovial fluid and cartilage, is injected.

Osteoarthritis in Dogs: Does the Operation Help?

In some rare cases, dogs with osteoarthritis are advised to have surgery. This is usually the case if there is an underlying disease such as joint dysplasia or if bone detachments severely impair the function of the joint.

Physiotherapy for Osteoarthritis Dogs

Physiotherapy can also be useful. Running on the underwater treadmill is popular and often used by dogs with osteoarthritis.

Alternative Healing Methods, Homeopathy and Home Remedies

Alternative healing methods can provide relief, such as B. acupuncture. This is intended to eliminate disruptions in the energy pathways, although such an effect has not been scientifically proven. However, needle acupuncture leads to an increased release of pain-relieving substances in the brain.

If used regularly, the leech treatment also helps, because the leeches reduce the pressure in the joint by sucking the blood and at the same time release an anti-inflammatory substance. Unfortunately, the effect only lasts for a short time.

Dealing with Osteoarthritis Dogs: Exercise, Diet, etc.

The stronger your dog’s complaints, the more consideration and support it needs in everyday life. A few basic rules should be internalized even with mild osteoarthritis.

Always keep moving

“If you rest, you rust”, is an old saying. In every joint, there is synovial fluid around the bones, a fluid called synovia in technical terms. Thanks to it, the joint cartilage is supplied with nutrients and the bones slide past each other as they move. It is primarily formed during movement. Regular exercise adapted to the dog prevents cartilage degradation and alleviates the symptoms of existing osteoarthritis.

Protect from cold and wet

As the owner of a dog suffering from osteoarthritis, you will notice that your dog is more sensitive to pain and stiffer in wet and cold weather. This sensitivity to weather has not yet been scientifically clarified. It is believed that slowed metabolism and tense muscles increase the symptoms.

Avoid being overweight

Every pound too much puts a strain on the joints. Especially in a dog with osteoarthritis, it is important that obesity is avoided. Due to the limited buffering due to cartilage damage, even a small additional weight leads to further damage to the joint.

Relieving berths

Joints with osteoarthritis are sensitive to pain. Any external pressure can be uncomfortable for the dog. Lying areas that easily adapt to the body shape by giving way reduce the pressure when lying down.

What Helps? Prevent Osteoarthritis in Dogs

The prevention of osteoarthritis in dogs starts with the choice of parent animals for the future puppy. If the parents already have osteoarthritis or have a predisposition to it, it can be passed on hereditary.

Do not put too much strain on joints in puppyhood

The foundations for healthy joint development are laid in puppyhood. Puppy bones are still growing and are not closed and resilient during this time. The open growth plates close between the 1st and 2nd years of life, depending on the breed and size of the dog. Until then, the puppy shouldn’t be overloaded. Dog sports and running on bicycles are still taboo until then.

The larger the dog will probably later become and the worse the basic genetic conditions, the more carefully the puppy should be treated.

Proper nutrition in puppyhood

Diet also has a major impact on joint health later on. Obesity is to be avoided in any case, both in puppies and in adult dogs. The relationship between calcium and phosphorus is particularly important in feeding young dogs.

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