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Arthritis Prevention and Treatment

By Dr. Annette Richmond, DVM


Arthritis itself is a broad term that includes many different disorders and is as common in dogs as it is in humans. Osteoarthrits is just one type of arthritis, and it is the most common form found in dogs.

What is Canine Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) affects an estimated 20 percent of dogs in the U.S. Also known as degenerative joint disease, OA is the most common cause of lameness in dogs. It is a slowly progressive disease involving the breakdown of the cartilage in a joint. Cartilage is a tissue that covers the bone surfaces that contact each other. It provides lubrication and shock-absorption for the joint, and prevents bone-on-bone contact, allowing frictionless, pain-free movement. Anything that causes abnormal forces within the joint can concentrate extra load on the cartilage, damaging this cartilage. As the bone erodes, new bone formation, called osteophytes (bone spurs) may occur, leading to the pain and inflammation of OA.

Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the hip joint. One study identified hip OA in 30 percent of German Shepherds. Following the hips in frequency are the shoulders, the knees, and lastly the elbows.

Signs of Canine Osteoarthritis:
At a young age, the signs of osteoarthritis may be acute joint pain and lameness. However, OA is generally diagnosed later in life when its chronic signs become more significant. Many guardians first notice that their dog seems stiff after vigorous activity, or when they first get up after resting for a long time. Some dogs may be reluctant to jump into the car, go up or down stairs, or may lag behind on walks. Dogs with OA often seek warm, soft, and comfortable surfaces.

Diagnosing Osteoarthritis:
After taking a thorough history from the caretaker, a veterinarian performs a thorough physical and orthopedic examination : palpating the joints and muscles, testing the range of motion, and noting any muscle atrophy. Radiographs help reveal the severity of the disorder, and arthrocentesis (sampling the joint fluid) may be required to help in the diagnosis. Other imaging techniques like a CT scan or MRI may provide the best imaging of the joint. 

Prevention and Treatment of Osteoarthritis:
The goals of treatment are to eliminate the underlying cause of the arthritis. Treatment may include surgery to correct or stabilize an abnormal joint, to reduce pain and inflammation, to improve joint function, and to slow the arthritic process. The following treatments are also used to help prevent the onset of OA and can be started at any time during a dog’s life, especially if the dog is genetically predisposed to this disorder.

Weight: Keep dogs lean; obese dogs should be put on a strict diet.

Nutrition: Feed a high-quality diet of easily digestible proteins and no grains to ensure muscle development and to decrease inflammation in the joints.

Exercise modification: Maintain a consistent and moderate exercise program to improve muscle mass and range of motion, and to promote healthy cartilage. 

Hydrotherapy: Exercise in a low-impact environment , walking on an underwater treadmill or swimming, which decreases pain and increases muscle mass with little or no stress on the joints.

Physical rehabilitation: Treat with laser therapy, acupuncture, electrostimulation, massage, Reiki, and chiropractic work to decrease inflammation and pain.

Lifestyle changes: Use a ramp or step to help animals in and out of the car or up and down from furniture.

Anti-inflammatories: Supplement with Boswellia, bromelain, MSM, Yucca, and many more.

Joint support: Supplement with glucosamine and chondroitin. Injections of hyaluronic acid can improve health of the joint.  

Nutritional supplements: Feed omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins C and E to decrease inflammation.

Pharmaceutical agents are available, but have not been added to the list as they can cause severe adverse effects on organs, both short and long term.

At Natural Veterinary Therapy, Dr. Annette Richmond treats many musculoskeletal and neurological disorders including osteoarthritis. The practice features an underwater treadmill for both walking and swim therapy and a full physical rehabilitation therapy room. Dr. Richmond is both a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner. Within Dr. Richmond’s practice, Holly Heimer is a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistant and Rachel Ray is a Certified Massage Therapist who also practices Reiki. Call 655-0501 for an appointment to help your canine with any musculoskeletal or neurologic disorders.


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