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The prevention and management of arthritis in dogs

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Arthritis is a common ailment in both dogs and humans, but it can be much harder to spot in pets since they cannot tell their owners when they are in pain. There are a few things an observant owner can look for if they suspect their companion animal is suffering.

Arthritis is can be caused by old age and the natural wear and tear of the cartilage meant to protect joints. This leads to swelling, stiffness, pain, loss of mobility and flexibility. Unfortunately, there are other causes of arthritis that can affect dogs at any age, and larger breeds like Mastiffs or Great Danes are more prone to developing the disease. Injuries to joints, tendons, or muscles surrounding joints, especially during growth periods in a young dogs life, can lead to arthritis. Also, any joint infections, immune disorders, or inherited conditions (like hip dysplasia) can also cause arthritis in companion animals.

An owner may suspect their animal has arthritis if they notice their dog walking more stiffly or limping, having issues getting up from a sitting or lying down position or displaying intolerance for certain positions. Joints may also appear swollen and have limited flexibility. Due to the pain of arthritis, a pet may also seem less active than usual, resting and sleeping more often, and may be more hesitant to run, jump, or climb stairs.

But what can an owner do to alleviate the chronic pain of arthritis in their pets? First, it is important to maintain an active lifestyle and weight. Extra weight on a pet causes more stress on the joints of their ankles, hips, and shoulders which can lead to faster degradation of the cartilage meant to cushion the joints and take most of the impact when walking or moving. Once this cartilage is gone, bones can rub against each other, causing pain. A responsible owner will help their pet maintain a healthy weight so that their joints are less stressed when moving. Keeping active with low impact exercises helps to lose extra weight and keeps the joints from getting stiff from disuse. Walking or swimming are the best exercises to maintain mobility, flexibility, and strength in pets.

There are things a vet can do, such as radiographs and other tests, to diagnose arthritis. The next step would be to prescribe antibiotics, steroids or other anti-inflammatory (like Metacam, Rimadyl, and Caprofen) drugs, and painkillers. But, as with any prescription medication, there may be some unwanted side effects like weight gain, suppressed immune systems, gastrointestinal upset, lethargy, loss of appetite and depression. More serious side effects can include liver and kidney issues, stomach ulcers and bleeding.

Of course there are other options for pet owners to help their ailing pet that are more natural and generally safer to use. Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish oil are found to help cushion joints. Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements for dogs (like dasuquin) are also very effective and are widely available at pet stores. Oseteo bi-flex, which can be bought at any CVS or corner drugstore is also safe for dogs.
There are also many natural over-the-counter herbs that can be used to ease all the symptoms of arthritis such as: Turmeric, Holy Basil, Ginger, vitamin E, and St. John’s Wart. Hydrotherapy and acupuncture are effective pain relievers as well, but should only ever be performed by licensed professionals and under a vet’s supervision.

There is no cure for arthritis, once the damage is done, it is done, but making companion animals as comfortable as possible is always within the owner’s ability. There are specific orthopedic beds, or soft comfortable beds, for pets to lie on instead of a hard floor if they cannot or are not allowed in their human’s bed. There are ramps designed specifically for animals to get onto their human’s beds or into cars. The owner can used a raised food and water stand to ease strain on their pet’s neck and spine while eating. Gentle play for short periods of time will keep the pet active, and afterwards, the owner can give a slow gentle massage to their dog’s neck, shoulders and legs to minimize stiffness and increase blood flow.

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