Dogs can develop arthritis just as humans do, and age is not the only cause. Pet owners should be aware of their dog’s risk for arthritis and what symptoms to look out for. The disease can be very painful, making a dog utterly miserable, so early diagnosis can save a lot of discomfort.
What is Arthritis?
First and foremost, it is important to understand what is happening when a dog develops arthritis. In general, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. The joints, or hinges of the skeletal system, are responsible for coordinating the movement of a dog. All activities, such as running and jumping, require the use of the dog’s leg joints. Over time, or because of injury or infection, the tissue in the joints becomes inflamed and causes serious pain for the dog.
Cause of Canine Arthritis
Most commonly, age leads to the development of arthritis in a dog. Since it is a degenerative disease, general wear and tear of the joints can cause arthritis. This is very similar to the way that human beings develop arthritis. Dogs that are inactive or overweight are also at a higher risk of arthritis in later years.
But age is not necessarily a prerequisite for the debilitating condition. Younger dogs who have sustained damage to their legs, through injuries or accidents, may develop arthritis earlier than normal. There are also infections and diseases that lead to arthritis in younger dogs, such as canine hip dysplasia.
Types of Arthritis
Since there are a handful of causes of arthritis, veterinarians classify types of arthritis in two basic groups, degenerative and inflammatory. They are distinguished by their causes, by the symptoms are typically the same.
Degenerative Joint Disease, or osteoarthritis, results from damage to the cartilage cushioning the bones of the joint. Normal stress from years of wear on the joint can eventually cause destruction of the cartilege. There are several subcategories of osteoarthritis, each of which correlates with a specific precondition of abormal joints:
- Hip displasia (hip misalignment)
- Patella luxation (loose kneecaps)
- Osteochondritis dissecans (abnormal bone formation)
- Ruptured cruciate ligaments (knee)
Inflammatory joint disease is caused by other factors outside the joint formation, such as infection or immune problems. Bacteria, tick-borne diseases, and fungal infections are the causes of the infectious category of inflammatory joint disease. Immune-mediated arthritis result from hereditary immune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus.
Signs & Symptoms of Canine Arthritis
Most individuals understand arthritis as a crippling pain in the joints, so they expect to see stiffness or clumsiness when performing basic tasks. These signs can certainly indicate arthritis, but these are not the only symptoms a dog may exhibit. Nor are they always the first signs of arthritis.
Other symptoms of canine arthritis may include:
- Limping or favoring a limb,
- Lagging behind on walks,
- Difficulty changing position (standing, sitting, lying down),
- Changes in mood or behavior,
- Resisting touch or yelping when touched,
- Reluctance to perform active tasks (walking, climbing, jumping).
When canine arthritis is suspected, a veterinarian should be contacted right away. Since animals cannot speak for themselves, it is important that pet owners advocate for their health and well-being. In this case, early diagnosis and treatment can make a pet’s life much less painful.