According to some studies almost 20% of dogs suffer from arthritis. It means every fifth dog is having joint related pains. In the newest Koiramme-magazine (1/2018) a vet interview revealed most orthopedic surgeries done to dogs are related to inheritable problems such as patella luxation and loose hips. In many cases like this, arthritis may develop to the bad joint at one point despite surgery. It can also develop because of an injury, for example as a result of a broken toe or wrist. It's a nasty situation for both the dog and the owner, but there are some tricks you can do to make life easier and still be able to have some fun.
What is arthritis?
”Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. When the cartilage – the slick, cushioning surface on the ends of bones – wears away, bone rubs against bone, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Over time, joints can lose strength and pain may become chronic. Risk factors include excess weight, family history, age and previous injury (an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tear, for example).” (www.arthritis.org)
Structural problems of dogs wary, but what is common for all of them is that the dog is not built in a balanced, optimal way. Sometimes it's just bad luck, sometimes it's bad breeding, and sometimes unfortunately it's because the breed itself is not healthy in shape. We have many breeds that are shaped in a way that affects their normal every day life, affecting their moving, breathing, even reproducing. Sometimes their build also causes problems with their joints, as is the case with too straight or too exaggerated angulations or too heavy body. These problems can lead to arthritis, and it can happen fast. Even a young dog can have arthritis caused by major structural issues.
Arthritis doesn't read the breed standard. It doesn't respect ”but this is how the breed is supposed to look like!”
How do you treat arthritis?
- using hot and cold therapies
- regular physical activity
- maintaining a healthy weight
- strengthening the muscles around the joint for added support
- balancing activity with rest
It's a common misbelief that resting and avoiding exercise is the best way to deal with arthritis. Obviously rest is important, but so is exercise. The type of exercise is important, and so is the surface the exercise is happening on. Calm, continuing moving on soft surfaces is best for dogs with arthritis. This includes for example calm walks in a forest where the dog can move on it's own phase. Swimming is also a great way to exercise a dog with arthritis as the water floats the dog, this way taking off the weight from the joints. When the joints are able to move without holding the weight, the mobility is increased, muscles supporting the joint are trained and the joint gains flexibility.
Avoiding repetitive and heavy tasks, such as everyone's favorite game ”fetch the ball”, is encouraged. Also, hard surfaces cause more stress to the joint, so it's best to try and avoid long walks on asfalt. Thsi can be tricky specially in big cities.
Healthy weight is crucial. None of the above save the situation if the dog is morbidly obese. The less there is weight for the joints to support, the less there is pain.
Sometimes pain medication or assistive devices can be needed. There are some companies in the world that manufacture devices for dogs with joint related problems. These devides can however be extremely expensive.
My own experiences with laser treatment on dogs have also been very positive. It seemed to reduce both pain and swelling and the effect lasted for quite some time after just a few treatments.
Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfates and MSM
MSM is an organic sulfur compoud that is said to reduce inflammation and ease pain. Like with the supplements above, studies can't really prove if it's super effective or not, but as there are reports of it reducing the pain when used together with chondroitin and glucosamine, there is no real reason to not give it. Many people, including me, have seen drastic changes in their dogs with arthritis after giving them all three together.
Something to remember when choosing a brand is to make sure the amounts of supplements in their products are high enough. My own recommendations would be Cartivet MSM, which we used successfully for years when Mr. Arthritis was younger, and Working Dog Hyaluron 365. The latter has proven itself to be best product I have seen by far, and all my dogs use it. Mr. Arthritis and Mr. Hyperactivity for their arthritis and Mrs. Aloofness and Ms. Dominance to have just some added general support.
All in all, after living with arthritis for quite some time I have learned that it 's not a death sentence. Yes, it requires some extra effort, but the dog can live good life even with arthritis. We do some occasional fetching with my boys no matter they may be a little stiff after that. With right supplements, painmeds when needed and optimal exercise they live very happy, mostly painfree and definitely fun and fulfilling lives.
It's a nasty thing, but don't let it stop you, or your dog.