Effects of Arthritis – From the Dog’s Point of View
Arthritis is a painful, progressive, usually permanent joint disease that unfortunately is common in domestic dogs. While it is most commonly seen in older dogs, arthritis can also strike younger animals, especially those with a genetic predisposition to developing the disease. Arthritic dogs experience varying degrees of stiffness, soreness, lameness and pain in one or more affected joints. They feel worse when they get up in the morning or try to stand after taking a nap. Cold, damp weather can increase their discomfort. Because arthritis is almost always irreversible, most arthritic dogs get more painful as time passes. In severe cases, this condition can become debilitating and even crippling.
Symptoms of Arthritis – What the Owner Sees
The clinical signs of canine arthritis usually appear gradually and slowly worsen over time. Outward signs of arthritis are not specific to this disease and can mimic those of many other disorders. The first symptoms are often so mild that even the most observant owners may miss them. Eventually, however, owners will notice that their dog just isn’t doing right. The signs of arthritis include:
- Intermittent lameness
- Reluctance to rise or move
- Stiffness (especially after vigorous exercise or prolonged periods of rest; “bunny-hopping” gait)
- Swollen joints; may be warm and tender
- Visible joint deformities
- Painful joints (when touched/palpated or moved)
- Prolonged periods of rest (sleeps more than usual)
- Exercise intolerance; disinterest in physical activity
- Weight gain
- Aggression when joints are touched
- Appetite loss
- Abnormal stance when walking (pelvis tucked under; using hind legs with exaggerated care)
Affected dogs may rise slower in the morning and take longer to warm up after naps later in the day. They often spend more time resting or sleeping, which can lead to weight gain and exacerbate the effects of the disease. If a single joint is affected, the animal may become “three-legged lame,” which will predispose joints in the other limbs to develop arthritis, because they will be carrying more weight than normal. How rapidly the disease progresses will depend on a number of factors, including the dog’s breed, overall nutrition, weight, age and genetics.
Dogs at Increased Risk
There is no general breed or gender predisposition that increases a dog’s chance of developing arthritis, although this disease most commonly affects aging and older animals. However, breeds that are predisposed to elbow osteochondrosis and dysplasia (Labrador Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Rottweilers, others), hip dysplasia (lots of breeds), patellar luxation (small toy breeds) or cranial cruciate ligament tear or rupture (many breeds) do have an increased chance of developing degenerative arthritis secondary to those underlying conditions. Free-roaming dogs have a greater risk of traumatic injuries, which increases their chance of developing arthritis at the injury sites. Overweight animals, working dogs and highly athletic dogs have similar risks. Large, heavy breeds are also predisposed. Genetics are thought to be influential as well.