Arthritis is one of the most common health problems many of our dogs (and even cats) will suffer from in their later years. Just like humans, as dogs get older, they’re more prone to developing the degenerative joint disease that can eventually lead to losing cartilage altogether. Injuries early in life and even obesity are also contributing factors that would make any dog more prone to developing arthritis by mid-life, but breeds like Pugs, Boxers, Labrador retrievers, Mastiffs, and Great Danes are just a handful of the breeds that are more susceptible to the disease thanks to genetics.
Often it’s factors like their size, energy levels and activity levels associated with these breeds that dictate their higher likelihood of having arthritis in later years, while even the type of arthritis a dog is likely to develop can be in part influenced by its breed. For example, rheumatoid arthritis develops when the immune system attacks joints, attempting to fight off what it believes is an infection or injury through inflammation. Over time, inflammation gets stronger and more prominent as cartilage — the soft tissue cushioning the bones that make up joints — breaks down. At its worst, degeneration of cartilage can result in two bones painfully grinding against each other with nothing to cushion them. And as you’d imagine, this becomes incredibly painful for your pup. He (or she) walks different, they have less energy, and they just aren’t the same anymore — maybe even a touch irritable.
The largest dogs often have a high risk of developing arthritis. German Shepherds, Mastiffs, Great Danes, and Saint Bernards are just a handful of large breeds with this problem. The extra weight placed on their joints throughout the years wears them down, and when you mix this factor with greater energy levels throughout life, they’re almost guaranteed to be slowed down by arthritis in later years. Take the Golden Retriever, for example, who is often slightly larger than average when full grown and full of energy throughout their earlier years. Meanwhile, Greyhounds, for example, may not be very large but they can easily suffer injuries that are difficult to cope with as joint tissue degenerates later in life.
Aside from recognizing the risks of arthritis in earlier years, what are the symptoms and signs that your once-young pup may be starting to slow down thanks to arthritis?
They Start Limping (and Never Stop)
You may notice your dog favoring one leg over the others and moving in a way that signifies discomfort in a particular limb. This could of course just as easily be a sign of an injury that needs to heal, which will typically happen over time if this is the case. But if you specifically notice that he or she is first getting up gingerly with the limp becoming less noticeable once they’ve “warmed up” this may be a sign it’s actually painful inflammation they’re struggling with.
They Walk With A “Hunch”
Not all arthritis is going to affect the legs or joints that move the most often. Arthritis can negatively affect the spine as well, which could result in something like a noticeably sore neck or even walking with a slight hunch.
They Become Lazy
We should expect our pet will slow down in their later years; this isn’t exactly something to be alarmed by in every instance. An arthritic dog will often spend more time than usual sleeping and lounging around, and daily walks will become shorter as they have noticeably less energy as well as having to grit their way through the pain of walking for extended periods.
Their Muscles Atrophy
The pain associated with degenerating joint tissue (and eventually bare cartilage) will inevitably result in your dog being less active. He or she will simply move less, getting less and less exercise the greater the pain becomes. Because of this, arthritic animals will often develop muscle atrophy. One leg, for example, will eventually look smaller than the other once the muscles atrophy from underuse.
They Lick, Chew, and Nibble at Themselves More
Excessive licking, chewing, and biting at areas of irritation is a very common way pets cope with pain and injuries of just about any kind. Arthritis pain is no different, with their constantly picking at the area sometimes getting so bad that they lose hair in the affected area or even cause redness and inflammation.
They Have Difficulty Moving
There are many day-to-day tasks that may become difficult for your pet once the inflammation from arthritis starts to creep in. Do you live in a two-story house? You may notice they’re moving between the ground floor and the upstairs sections of your home less often. Were they once always excited to jump straight into your car or truck when it was time to go for a ride? The pain from arthritis will probably make them reluctant to grit through the pain of that jump now.
Just like pain from arthritis makes your pet more reluctant to carry out common tasks that used to come with ease, it will also make them more irritable. They’ll resist getting up and walking into the next room when dinner’s ready, they’ll ignore you when that leash comes out and it’s time for a walk. These are obvious signs that their mood is changing, but they may also even bite and snap when you approach them or attempt to handle them. Grabbing a paw may hurt, just like moving their leg if you pick them up, and so on.
Any and all of these can be a sign of problems other than arthritis, but if you notice the irritability, difficulty moving, muscle atrophy, a limp, it very well can be the result of them coping with arthritis pain. While arthritis can’t be cured, there are many ways you can help your pet manage the illness and its associated pain. Whether it’s a procedure or natural CBD treatment, your vet may prescribe various treatments for arthritis once you’ve noticed the changes in their health and brought them to a vet’s attention.