Dog Arthritis



Older dogs and to a less extent, cats, often suffer from degenerative hip disease.  Arthritis, by simple definition, is simply described as the inflammation of a joint.  Dog arthritis is extremely painful.  It was difficult to elect to show a visual image of an animal with severe arthritis.  I chose to include one that relaxes the viewer; particularly after a cold, snowy winter.  Looking at that oil painting to the right will take away any pain!


Dog arthritis is seen most commonly in the hips of large to giant breeds of dogs.  This area is known as the coxo-femoral joint; the area where the long bone of the thigh joins the pelvis.  As the dog ages, the cartilage lining the joint wears down causing bone to move against bone.  The animal loses the true ball and socket motion of the hip and simply moves the limb forward and backward to get anywhere.  In the German Shepherd, Canine Hip Dysplasia is seen with severe degeneration of the hip joint.  It has a genetic base and is diagnosed at 2 years of age.   Most breeders will have an OFA certificate to insure male and female mating’s do not produce progeny with the disease.


Dog arthritis can effect any joint in the body, not just the hip area.  The lumbar area is a source of major discomfort for older pets.  The cartilage between vertebrae allow elastic, twisting motion of the spine.  As the animal ages, bone spurs beneath the vertebrae fuse the bones together.  This is called discospondylosis.  Dogs have a low center of gravity so as they change direction the back end is forced along the path of the animal.  This repeated motion hurts a lot!  Dogs will often walk with a hunched up back (kyphosis) and be sore to touch over the abdominal area.


Prior injuries throughout the animals life can lead to dog arthritis in the senior years.  Small dogs that have cruciate and or other untreated knee issues will develop scarring and arthritis in the affected leg.  Old fractures, anywhere, that did not heal completely can lead to arthritis and physical discomfort.




Outside of the mechanical or anatomic cause of dog arthritis, it is important to know what to look for in the senior dog or cat.  What makes it difficult is that dogs can not talk or give a medical history to tell the veterinarian where it hurts!  Owners have to learn how to pick up signs that lead the person to suspect joint pain and seek medical attention.  This is very tricky for cats!  Any cat can be physically ill and sit there like nothing is wrong with it.  Cats are masters of deception.  By the time a cat is obviously ill, it has lost a ton of weight making treatment more difficult.


Many dogs and cats will be reluctant to jump up on objects that they used to do with aplomb.  This is very easy to fix for the nimble cat.  If it can’t jump on a bed put an object half the height of the bed so the cat can jump first on the step stool than up to the bed.  Dogs will discourage themselves from climbing stairs and fearful of falling down them if coming at them from the top to bottom.  Because of the pain involved, dogs will have sleeping difficulties because it is difficult to get in a non-painful position to sleep.  This leads to constant movement or pacing throughout the night because that is the only way it is not in extreme pain.


Pain is often the beginning of a lot of senior difficulties.  They become anorexic and do not drink water, not just because of the pain, but because the food and water bowls are too far away to get to them without suffering pain.  This discourages fluid intake and an animal can get very close to kidney disease.


Dogs may also soil in the home because it is too difficult to get up and go to the door.  Cats may do the same because they can not get into a tall litter box because it hurts.  Many dogs can be helped by using a sling that supports the lower body and hind legs so that the animal can go outside.  Old bed sheets are very useful in this situation.  For the cat, make sure there are plenty of litter boxes around the house and that the entry to them is cut out so that the cat does not have to jump into the box but just walk in.

Dog arthritis is a debilitating disease as the animal ages. It can cause intense pain in any joint.



The previous section gave you ideas of what to look for.  Owners will not see each and every one of them because pets are all individuals and things will be different in each.  If you notice any of the clinical signs of dog arthritis mentioned, be sure to make an appointment for an exam and medical workup of your pet.  This will include:  a physical, radiography or other imaging procedures and appropriate blood work.  Many diseases will mimic dog arthritis so a veterinarian will be able to differentiate between them to provide a treatment plan that will be presented to the owner.


If arthritis of whatever variety is diagnosed treatment is usually the following.  If there is a surgical procedure that can be performed by a specialist, that will be discussed with the client.  The one that comes to mind is canine hip replacement surgery.  This procedure should be entered into only after exhausting all other medical options.  The surgery takes several months for convalescence and an animal’s mobility has to be restricted for long periods of time plus avoiding all slippery surfaces like tile and polished wood.


The majority of pets respond to anti-inflammatory drugs.  The most commonly used are the NSAIDThis stands for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. drugs.  In this group the most commonly used is Rimadyl®; chemically known as carprofen.  THIS DRUG SHOULD BE AVOIDED IN ALL CATS!  Cats are ultra sensitive to NSAID drugs which can lead to kidney and liver failure.  In the dog, Rimadyl® provides pain relief by indirectly reducing the inflammation over the affected joint.  Combined with nutriceuticals, this combination provides relief to countless number of dogs.


Pain control in cats is difficult.  If you think Rimadyl® is bad for your cat, Tylenol® is even worse.  One Tylenol® capsule will kill a cat.  The cat can not take a lot of human or dog pain killers because of one simple fact.  They lack an liver enzyme called glucuronyl transferase.  This enzyme conjugates or turns toxic breakdown products in the liver into non-toxic products that are secreted in the urine.  Not so in the cat.  In this case, an altered form of hemoglobin predominates (methemoglobinemia) leading to signs of dark, muddy gums, breathing difficulties and eventual death.  Acetylcysteine, Vitamin C and supportive care are the usual treatments.  Aspirin is also risky as cats are sensitive to anti-prostaglandin drugs.  Appropriate, safe pain killers for cats are tramadol & butorphanol.  Both of these are prescription drugs only.


In severe cases, a dog or cat may require corticosteroids (eg: prednisolone) to provide quick anti-inflammatory relief.  It should be noted that cats do not respond to prednisone but prednisolone.  The latter is usually an injectable that goes by the name of Depo-Medrol® (methylprednisolone). It is a slow release product; with one injection lasting between 3-4 weeks in both dogs and cats.  Long term use of this drug is not recommended and can lead to adrenal gland disordersThe most common adrenal disease caused by excess steroid use is Cushings Syndrome (hyperadrenocorticism). With excess steroid being taken, the adrenal glands stop manufacturing the body"s own cortisone known as cortisol. It is this excess of steroid that leads to the various signs of Cushings Syndrome. Other causes are by pituitary and or adrenal tumors..  NSAID’s should not be given concurrently with any version of a corticosteroid.


One of the most important treatments for overweight dogs and cats suffering from dog arthritis is to lose weight.  This will take the strain off of inflamed joints often resulting in no medical Rx or at least a decrease in the dosing of said drugs.  Making an older animals life easier will be found in Senior Comfort.

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