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What is arthritis?
When we refer to arthritis in dogs we usually refer to osteoarthritis (OA). Septic (infectious) arthritis, immune mediated arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are rare. OA is usually secondary to either developmental (hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia) or acquired causes (wear and tear, cruciate ligament rupture, and patellar luxation). These conditions cause instability in the joint and abnormal pressures are placed on the articular cartilage. The cartilage is irreversibly damaged by the subsequent release of inflammatory products and the joint capsule becomes inflamed and painful.

What breeds are affected by osteoarthritis?
All breeds can be affected although certain breeds are more prone to developmental conditions as they are generally heritable problems. Large breed dogs are over represented in this category. Overweight dogs are more susceptible to developing OA. Previous injury can also result in OA later in life.

How do I know if my dog has osteoarthritis?
The signs are often very subtle initially but are persistent and generally worsen over time. Watch out for morning stiffness that improves with gentle exercise, inability to jump up into the car or onto the furniture as usual, worsening lameness after heavy exercise or intermittent lameness in one or more legs.

How is arthritis diagnosed?
Your vet can often get a good idea from knowing a history of the problem and a clinical exam whether your dog has a musculoskeletal problem. They will need to confirm whether it is bone and cartilage related by taking a set of x-rays.

How is arthritis treated?
OA is a progressive disease and cannot be reversed although its progression can be slowed.
The aim of treatment is to alleviate pain. Your vet will discuss any surgical intervention that may be available. However not all orthopaedic conditions can be corrected.

A conservative approach would include the following:
An appropriate diet in the growing phase of a dog’s life will go a long way towards preventing a problem or at least minimising it. That means keeping the energy and mineral balance correct and not over feeding. Feed the best quality breed size specific diet you can afford.
Overweight dogs suffer from osteoarthritic pain far more than slimmer dogs so if your dog is overweight it would help immensely to put him on a calorie controlled diet.
There are specifically formulated joint diets containing natural anti-inflammatory supplements that can alleviate pain.

Nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin are also be helpful. These substances help to lubricate the joint and may replace lost nutrients in the damaged cartilage layer.
Omega 3/6 Oils help to alter the composition of the fatty layer surrounding the cells making it more likely to breakdown into non inflammatory rather than inflammatory products.
Various other supplements have been used to mixed effect. There are topical preparations you can apply to alleviate muscle tension as a result of joint pain.

Controlling exercise is important in managing the pain. Obviously it is best to rest the dog if the pain is acute but if you need to exercise then short, frequent ,lead walks are better than long. Swimming is an excellent form of non-weight bearing activity. Avoid any vigorous game that involves jumping and changing direction quickly like ball throwing or agility exercises.

Adjunctive therapies
Physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture and hydrotherapy are also highly recommended as adjunctive therapies to strengthen and relax the muscles.

If surgical or conservative therapy doesn’t work your vet may resort to anti-inflammatory drugs.