In the early stages of arthritis, painful flare-ups may be common, and you may notice discomfort with joint movement, occasional limping and subtle changes in walk. As the disease progresses, you will notice pain with joint movement, persistent limping, visible changes in walk, difficulty rising and soreness after exercise. In the late stages, there will be significant, constant pain and pronounced changes in walk. Your dog may need assistance to rise, have restricted range of motion and muscle atrophy.
As the pain increases, your pet may exhibit aggression or hiding behavior, or might even lick or gnaw at the offending joint.
Luckily there are a number of ways to make your pet more comfortable. Moderate exercise is a great way for a dog to loosen up stiff joints. Swimming and a moderate walk are best; running will put more pressure (and pain) on the joints.
Weight control also is important. Those extra pounds limit movement and put added stress on joints. In addition to exercise, owners should check with their veterinarian for diet recommendations.
A soft, warm bed helps soothe aches and pains (many pet stores even sell orthopedic beds). Our hospital cat Tippy loves her warm heated bed. A ramp to help the dog in and out of the car or up the stairs will make a dog’s difficult climb or jump easier. Elevated bowls allow eating and drinking without stooping.
Aspirin, ibuprofen and other human medications should not be given to pets because they can lead to painful stomach ulcers.
Veterinarians now have excellent treatments available to help manage arthritis. There are pain medications that are formulated to avoid ulcers. Special diets that are specifically formulated for the arthritic pet are also available and can help immensely. There are injectable treatments that help stabilize the cartilage in the joint. Some veterinarians use acupuncture and laser treatment.
Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but it can be managed with medication and tender, loving care. Working with a veterinarian, dog owners can improve their dog’s quality of life. You’d be surprised to see how the old dog can regain some of the vigor of its puppyhood.