Arthritis is a common condition that affects many dogs as they age. It occurs when the joints become inflamed, leading to pain and reduced mobility.
Though arthritis is often associated with senior dogs, it can also develop in younger dogs due to genetic factors, injuries, or other health conditions. That might leave you asking the question “At what age do dogs start getting arthritis?” and it’s a question I often get asked as a veterinarian. We’ll answer that in this article, as well as highlighting the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and preventative measures for this condition.
Understanding Arthritis in Dogs
Arthritis involves chronic inflammation of the joints that causes pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. There are two main types of arthritis that can affect our canine friends: osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder). While osteoarthritis is more common in dogs, rheumatoid arthritis can be more severe.
Arthritis, and particularly osteoarthritis, is quite common in middle-aged to senior dogs, with some dogs experiencing symptoms as early as 8 years old or older. However, it’s important to remember that dogs have individual differences, so some may develop arthritis earlier or later than others.
Symptoms of Canine Arthritis
Symptoms of arthritis in dogs include:
It’s important to remember that the symptoms of arthritis in dogs may vary depending on the type, severity, and location of arthritis.
Symptoms could worsen with cold, damp, or humid weather, or after periods of inactivity, so it’s essential to keep an eye on your furry friend throughout the year.
I cannot stress enough the importance of early detection and intervention when it comes to canine arthritis. If left untreated, arthritis can lead to chronic pain, disability, and reduced quality of life for dogs. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above. Early intervention is key to managing arthritis and ensuring a comfortable, happy life for your dog.
Causes and Risk Factors
There is no single cause of arthritis in dogs, but rather a combination of factors that contribute to the development and progression of the condition. Lets discuss the main causes and risk factors of arthritis in dogs, including aging, obesity, and genetics along with breed-specific risks.
Aging and Arthritis
Aging is the most common risk factor for arthritis in dogs. The natural wear and tear of the joints over time leads to cartilage degradation and joint inflammation. The age at which dogs start getting arthritis varies depending on the breed, size, and health of the dog, but most dogs show signs of arthritis by the age of 7 to 10 years.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, arthritis affects one in five adult dogs in the US, and is one of the most common sources of chronic pain in dogs. A study by the University of Liverpool found that 80% of dogs over the age of 8 years have evidence of osteoarthritis on X-rays, but only 20% of them show clinical signs of the condition.
Obesity and Arthritis
Obesity is another major risk factor for arthritis in dogs. Excess weight puts more stress and pressure on the joints, leading to faster cartilage breakdown and joint damage. Obesity can also cause or worsen other health problems in dogs, such as diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory disorders, which can affect the blood flow and oxygen supply to the joints and increase the inflammation and pain in the body.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 56% of dogs in the US were overweight or obese in 2018, and only 24% of dog owners recognized that their dogs had a weight problem. A study by the University of Glasgow found that obese dogs have a shorter lifespan by an average of 1.3 years, and are more likely to develop chronic diseases, such as arthritis, diabetes, and cancer, than lean dogs.
Genetics and Breed-Specific Risks
Genetics and breed are also important factors that influence the likelihood and onset of arthritis in dogs. Some dogs are more prone to inherit or develop certain joint disorders or abnormalities that can lead to arthritis. The most common genetic or breed-specific joint conditions that can cause or predispose dogs to arthritis include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and patellar luxation.
Hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joint causing instability, pain, and inflammation, can lead to osteoarthritis. It is more common in large and giant breeds, such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Great Danes. Elbow dysplasia, a malformation of the elbow joint causing abnormal growth, cartilage damage, and osteoarthritis, is more common in medium and large breeds, such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Newfoundland, Mastiff, and English Setter. Patellar luxation, a condition where the kneecap slips out of its normal position, causes pain, lameness, and osteoarthritis, and is more common in small and toy breeds, such as Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, and Poodle.
According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, hip dysplasia affects 19.4% of all dogs, and elbow dysplasia affects 13.6% of all dogs, based on the evaluation of over 2 million dogs from 2010 to 2019.
Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs
As a pet owner, you might be wondering how to diagnose arthritis in dogs. The process typically begins by taking a detailed look at your dog’s health, lifestyle, and behavior, as well as any signs or symptoms they might be experiencing related to arthritis.
The next step can be to gently feel and move your dog’s joints, focusing on the knees, hips, and elbows. Carefully observe for any signs of pain, swelling, stiffness, or reduced mobility. It’s also important to watch for any discomfort your dog may be experiencing.
However, in order to truly diagnose the presence and type of arthritis, a veterinarian will need to perform diagnostic tests such as X-rays, joint fluid analysis, ultrasound, or MRI scans. These tests help rule out other potential causes of joint pain or inflammation, providing a more accurate diagnosis.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of regular veterinary check-ups, especially for older dogs or dogs with risk factors for arthritis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow down the progression of the condition and improve your dog’s quality of life. So, next time you take your furry friend for a check-up, it’s a good idea to discuss the possibility of arthritis and how to best manage their health.
Treatment and Management of Arthritis
Arthritis in dogs has no cure, but there are various options for treatment and management, depending on factors like the type of arthritis, its severity and location, and the dog’s age, weight, and overall health.
Medication/Pain Relief for Arthritis
When it comes to medication, I believe that sometimes it is prescribed by veterinarians to help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis in dogs while improving joint function and mobility. Some common types of medications include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as carprofen, meloxicam, or deracoxib, can relieve pain and inflammation but may have side effects like gastrointestinal irritation or ulcers. They should be used with caution and under veterinary supervision.
- Corticosteroids, like prednisone and dexamethasone, are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs but can have severe side effects. They should be used sparingly and under veterinary supervision.
- Opioids are strong painkillers but can have side effects like sedation or addiction and should be used only for severe pain and under veterinary supervision.
- Adjunctive drugs such as gabapentin or amantadine help enhance the effects of other painkillers or treat neuropathic pain but should be used with caution and under veterinary supervision.
Supplements for Arthritis
Supplements can help support joint health and function in dogs with arthritis. Some common examples are:
- Glucosamine and chondroitin help maintain cartilage and joint fluid and may stimulate the production of new cartilage and reduce the breakdown of old cartilage.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce pain and swelling in the joints while improving the skin and coat condition.
- Green-lipped mussel contains a unique combination of omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and other nutrients that may help protect and repair joint tissues.
- Turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties due to its compound curcumin.
It’s important to consult a veterinarian before giving any supplements to dogs with arthritis, as some supplements may interact with other medications or have side effects.
Alternative therapies are non-medical methods that may help complement conventional treatment and management of arthritis in dogs.
- Physiotherapy involves exercises, massages, stretches, and other techniques that help improve joint mobility and function while reducing pain and stiffness.
- Hydrotherapy includes swimming or walking in water, which provides buoyancy, resistance, and warmth, reducing the weight-bearing stress on the joints and increasing muscle mass and endurance.
- Acupuncture stimulates nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, releasing natural painkillers and anti-inflammatory substances in the body.
- Laser therapy applies low-level laser light to the affected joints, stimulating cells, tissues, and blood vessels while reducing inflammation, pain, and promoting healing.
It’s essential to seek professional guidance from a veterinarian or a certified therapist before trying any alternative therapies for dogs with arthritis, as some therapies may have contraindications or complications.
When Surgery is Needed
As a dog owner, it can be tough to see your canine companion suffering from arthritis and there may come a time when surgery is needed to help alleviate their pain. I should note that surgery is typically the last resort for treating arthritis in dogs and is only considered when the condition is severe, disabling, or unresponsive to other treatments, and the benefits outweigh the risks and costs involved.
There are a few common types of surgery used for arthritis in dogs. For example, arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves inserting a small camera and instruments into the joint, removing any damaged or inflamed tissues, such as cartilage, bone, or synovium. This can help the joint retain some functionality without having to resort to more invasive surgeries.
Another option is joint replacement. This is a major procedure that involves removing the entire joint and replacing it with an artificial one made of metal, plastic, or ceramic. The goal is to restore the normal function and mobility of the joint, giving your dog a new lease on life.
Joint fusion is another surgical option, but it’s quite invasive. This procedure involves removing the cartilage and fusing the bones of the joint together using screws, plates, or pins. While this surgery can eliminate the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, it also means the joint will no longer be able to move.
The recovery and outcome of surgery for arthritis in dogs depends on factors like the type and complexity of the surgery, as well as the age, weight, and overall health of your dog. Post-operative care is crucial to ensure optimal healing and function, so be prepared for things like medication, physiotherapy, or rehabilitation.
Before deciding on surgery for your dog’s osteoarthritis, it’s essential to have an in-depth conversation with your veterinarian about the pros and cons. They can guide you in understanding the various surgical options and determine the best course of action based on your dog’s specific situation.
Arthritis in dogs is a common, chronic condition causing joint pain, inflammation, and reduced mobility. It can affect dogs of any age, but more often older dogs experience it. The age at which dogs start getting arthritis depends on various factors, such as breed, size, weight, health, and genetics. Some dogs may have inherited or developed joint disorders or abnormalities that predispose them to arthritis.
The symptoms of arthritis in dogs may vary, but they usually include limping, stiffness, difficulty moving, reduced activity, and vocalizing pain. These symptoms may worsen with cold, damp, or humid weather, or after periods of inactivity. The diagnosis of arthritis in dogs is based on history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Early detection and intervention can help slow down the progression and improve the quality of life of the dogs.
Treatment and management of arthritis in dogs involve a combination of medication, supplements, alternative therapies, and lifestyle changes, such as weight management, exercise, and environmental modification. Surgery is considered only when the condition is severe or unresponsive to other treatments.
As a dog owner, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian regularly, especially for older dogs or dogs with risk factors for arthritis. Follow their advice and prescription for the best treatment and management plan for the dogs. Monitor the dogs for any signs or changes in their behavior, activity, or mood, and report them to the veterinarian promptly, as they may indicate the presence or worsening of arthritis or other health problems.
Providing dogs with a balanced and nutritious diet is crucial, and avoiding overfeeding or giving them human food or treats can prevent obesity from aggravating arthritis and other health issues. Encourage the dogs to exercise moderately and regularly, avoiding activities that may cause excessive stress or injury to the joints, such as jumping, running, or playing on hard or slippery surfaces.
Making the dogs comfortable and safe at home is important, as well as providing them with a soft and warm bed, a ramp or stairs to access elevated areas, a non-slip mat or carpet to prevent slipping or falling, and a coat or sweater to keep them warm in cold weather.
Lastly, show the dogs love and affection, provide mental stimulation and social interaction, such as toys, games, or companions, as they can help improve their mood and well-being, and reduce their stress and pain.
What are the common symptoms of arthritis in dogs?
Common symptoms include limping, stiffness, and difficulty getting up after resting. Dogs may also show signs of pain when touched or petted and may become less active or avoid activities they used to enjoy. Additionally, they might experience joint swelling and a decreased range of motion. Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and check with your vet if you notice any of these symptoms.
Which dog breeds are most prone to arthritis?
Although arthritis can affect any dog, some breeds are more prone to developing this condition. Larger breeds like Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds can be more susceptible due to their size and weight.
How can you treat arthritis in dogs?
There are various medications available for arthritis such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help control pain and inflammation. Additionally, weight management, exercise, and physical therapy can play a significant role in managing arthritis. Some dog owners also find success using joint supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, although it’s best to consult with a vet before starting any supplement regimen.
How long can a dog live with arthritis?
With proper care and treatment, dogs can live for many years with arthritis. By working closely with your veterinarian and maintaining a consistent management plan, we can extend our dogs’ quality of life.
What causes arthritis in young dogs?
Several factors can contribute to early-onset arthritis, including genetic factors, joint injuries, and certain health conditions. It’s important to keep a watchful eye on your young dog and consult with a veterinarian if you notice any signs of joint pain or stiffness.
At what age do dogs normally develop hip dysplasia?
Hip dysplasia is a common ailment in dogs and can contribute to arthritis. Dogs may start showing signs at any age, but it typically affects them between 4 and 10 months old. Some larger breeds, such as German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, can be more prone to hip dysplasia due to genetics. To minimize the risk, make sure your dog maintains a healthy weight, receives regular exercise, and consult with a veterinarian if concerns arise.