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Osteoarthritis in dogs

Veterinarian Dr. Karin Schlotterbeck explains:

Osteoarthritis in dogs

Osteoarthritis (osteoarthrosis) is a painful disease of the musculoskeletal system and can limit both your dog's mobility and general activity. But what exactly is osteoarthritis and how can it be treated?

What is osteoarthritis and how does it occur?

Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage in the joint wears out and degenerates. In a healthy joint, bone surfaces are covered by a layer of cartilage, and synovial fluid allows the bones to slide smoothly over one another. However, as with humans, this system in dogs can also become impaired and wear out. The articular cartilage then loses its elasticity, becomes cracked and when moving, the joint surfaces rub against each other with less and less cartilage protection. At a later stage, the cartilage completely degenerates and the bone becomes exposed and deformed. The so-called “Pomeranian ridges” can develop – i.e. bone formations that limit the mobility of the joint.

The joint may then become warm, swollen and red.

Reasons for osteoarthritis can be trauma of various kinds, inflammation (arthritis) or constant incorrect loading (e.g. due to being overweight). However, osteoarthritis can also arise from malformations such as elbow or hip dysplasia or be a result of the natural aging process. In most cases, the reasons for osteoarthritis cannot be clearly identified. In theory, osteoarthritis can affect any dog, but older dogs of larger breeds in particular suffer from the disease at some point.

What are signs of osteoarthritis in dogs?

If your four-legged friend is lame, this could be a sign of osteoarthritis. This lameness can become more pronounced after a long period of rest and can “dissipate” over time. Other symptoms include limited mobility of the corresponding joints and constant pain in the affected joint. As a result, dogs move less - or they try to relieve the affected joint, which can lead to muscle regression and tension.

Further indications could be that your dog refuses to climb stairs or jump into the car - these movements put strain on the painful joints.

The most commonly affected areas are the knees, hips, elbows, shoulders and spine (spondylosis) - but cases of osteoarthritis of the ankle joints also occur.

When should I take my dog ​​to the doctor?

Osteoarthritis usually progresses slowly, so there is no specific time when your dog suddenly needs acute treatment. But the earlier a diagnosis is made, the earlier therapy can begin. You know your dog best, so if you notice that over time he becomes less comfortable with exercise and his movements seem stiff, you should consult your veterinarian.

You should definitely go to the vet, especially if your dog is visibly lame - lameness can have many causes in addition to osteoarthritis and should always be clarified.

If you suspect osteoarthritis, your veterinarian will take an X-ray of the joint and assess the severity of the disease. Further diagnostic measures may be taken under certain circumstances.

What treatments are there for osteoarthritis in dogs?

The therapy is made up of various basic pillars:

  1. Medication
  2. Weight loss
  3. Special food
  4. Dietary supplements
  5. physical therapy

If osteoarthritis has been diagnosed, the vet will first give your dog pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory and decongestant medications.

If your four-legged friend is overweight, losing weight becomes more important than ever. Because every extra kilo only puts more strain on your joints. Regular but light exercise sessions help you lose weight, promote the production of synovial fluid and strengthen the muscles.

Here it can help to consult an animal physiotherapist. Massages, particularly careful mobilization of the joint, heat and cold treatments or water baths in which your dog gently stresses his joints on a treadmill can make his joints significantly more mobile.

Injections (hyaluronic acid or cortisone) can be made directly into the joint to reduce the inflammation.

How can osteoarthritis be prevented?

Intensive exercise (running next to the bike, throwing balls, running up and down stairs, etc.) should only begin at around one year of age, depending on the size of the dog, as the joints of puppies and young dogs are still very soft and malleable only consolidated at the end of growth.

Weight control – it is better for a dog to be too thin rather than too fat when growing so that the joints can solidify at rest and do not have to bear too much weight.

In young, adult, large dogs, x-rays can be taken to diagnose hip joint dysplasia (misalignment of the femoral head in the hip socket) and elbow joint dysplasia (misalignment in the elbow joint area) in order to prevent severe osteoarthritis early through appropriate treatment (surgery).

What is the prognosis for osteoarthritis in dogs?

Osteoarthritis is an incurable disease, so therapy is designed to enable the dog to live as pain-free a life as possible. With the right treatment, your dog can maintain a stable state of health for years without having his quality of life reduced too much.