Arthritis In Dogs: A Natural Solution
Arthritis is a condition that affects the joints of people and animals alike. If your dog has recently been diagnosed with arthritis, you're most likely wondering what you can do to keep your pet's quality of life as high as possible.
In this article, we'll break down what arthritis actually is, what causes it, how to diagnose it, and provide alternative medications to harmful NSAIDS.
What Is Arthritis In Dogs?
Arthritis is a type of joint disease that happens after the joint cartilage and underlying bones begin to wear down and become weak. It can cause pain and inflammation in the affected joints, reducing your dog's mobility and excitement levels. While it's normal for dogs to slow down as they get older, arthritis leads to a significant reduction in your pet's willingness to be active.
One in every five dogs develops arthritis at some point in their lives, making it a fairly common disease. In fact, it's the most common cause behind pain in aging dogs. Most of the time arthritis is just the result of wear and tear on your dog's joints over the course of their life. As they play, run, and jump, they are putting stress on their joints, and slowly wearing them out.
By the time they get into their later canine years, the cartilage in the joints is thin and vulnerable. This cartilage serves as a cushion between their joints, and as it begins to wear down, your pet's joints grind together, causing a good deal of discomfort. This has the potential to cause spurs, but it isn't guaranteed. Any joint in your dog's body can be affected by arthritis, but most commonly it will target their hips, elbows, knees, wrists, shoulders, ankles, and lower back.
Types of Arthritis In Dogs
There are five types of arthritis that dogs can develop. However, most of them are fairly uncommon. In general, your pet will develop one of two forms of arthritis:
Degenerative Joint Disease
Also known as osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease occurs after the erosion of cartilage in your pet's joints or due to inflammation. This leads to friction, which can cause your pet a lot of pain and discomfort. Alongside reducing your pet's mobility, this can lead to the development of bone spurs, which are bone projections on the areas around your pet's joints. This can lead to an increase in your dog's pain levels. Purebred dogs are at a higher risk for developing degenerative joint disease.
Inflammatory Joint Disease
Inflammatory joint disease, or septic arthritis, is a form of joint inflammation caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, degeneration (or also known as osteoarthritis), diabetes, or Cushing's disease. Most often this will be limited to a single joint, though it can target more than one. Male canines between 4 and 7 years old are at the highest risk of developing inflammatory joint disease, and Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Labradors all have a predisposition for developing it as well. Affected joints are usually swollen and warm to the touch, and typically become infected following a surgical procedure.
Hip Dysplasia In Dogs
Hip dysplasia can be a form of degenerative joint disease formed at birth that affects your pet's hips. When your dog has hip dysplasia, it progresses with age as the ball and socket joint of their hip becomes malformed. This prevents the two components from aligning properly, causing a grinding motion instead of sliding.
If your dog is diagnosed with hip dysplasia, your vet will perform the necessary tests to determine if arthritis is the cause. Another common cause of hip dysplasia is bone disease. After a series of tests, your vet will know which of the two is the cause and advise you on how to treat the issue.
What Causes Arthritis In Dogs?
Just like the joints in humans, canine joints are vulnerable to wear and tear over time. Your pet's joints consist of two bones that fit into one another, with a layer of cartilage forming a cushion between them. Surrounding this is synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant for the joint.
In normal health, the cartilage and synovial fluid allow the joint to move smoothly and painlessly. However, that cartilage and fluid can wear down for a variety of reasons, resulting in the bones having little to no cushion between one another. This grinding causes a great deal of pain and discomfort for your furry friend, which is why you may notice them lying down more than running.
This cartilage can break down for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's nothing more than your dog having lived a long and active lifestyle. Other times it's the result of joint trauma, a birth defect, abnormal development of the joints during adolescence, obesity, cartilage deficit, poor nutrition, etc. While arthritis isn't fatal, it is chronic, and the longer it persists untreated, the more pain your pet will be in.
Is It Hereditary?
Arthritis isn't directly hereditary, but the causes of it can be inherited. For example, birth defects, abnormal joint development, and cartilage deficits can all be passed down through dog generations. As a result, some breeds (most purebreds) have a higher chance of developing arthritis than others.
How To Know If Your Dog Has Arthritis
Because arthritis gets worse the longer it goes untreated, it's important to be informed of the signs and symptoms of arthritis and proactive about vet check-ups. Making vet visits a normal part of your dog's routine will help you catch signs of arthritis early.
Dogs, and most animals in general, have a natural instinct to hide their pain. While this can keep them safe in the wild, it makes it difficult for owners to know when they need help. The result is pet owners not realizing anything is wrong until the arthritis is more developed. Luckily, it isn't impossible to spot the signs of arthritis early on. Like most early symptoms, they're a little non-specific; meaning it could be that your dog has arthritis, or it could be something else. Your best bet is to report any abnormal behavior to your vet and get them tested.
Common Signs and Symptoms Include:
- Weight gain
- Increased sleep
- Abnormal movement patterns or limping
- Decreased mobility
- Uneasiness when getting on or off a couch or bed
- Personality changes
- Slow movements
- Reluctance to stand
- Swollen or warm joints
- Sensitivity to having their joints touched
- Visible joint irregularities
- Urinating indoors
- Licking of joints
- Muscle atrophy
Again, these are general symptoms for many health problems in dogs. Any irregular behavior or condition should be diagnosed and treated under a vet's supervision.
Diagnosing Arthritis In Dogs
Determining whether your dog's symptoms are a result of arthritis is the first step to getting the issue treated. Keep a log of any and all symptoms, behaviors, and incidents you notice with your dog once you realize that something is affecting your dog. This will be immensely helpful to your vet during the diagnostic process.
After your vet has asked you questions regarding your pet's health, they will perform a physical examination to look for more obvious signs of arthritis as well as pinpoint the affected areas. This involves observing your pet's gait, range of motion, and reaction to having joints touched. They will also look for abnormalities like swollen joints, joint deformities, and the like.
Follow up tests may include blood work and a urinalysis. Not necessarily to confirm the issue is arthritis, but to be sure that it isn't something else. Once your vet is sure that arthritis is the root of the issue they will use x-rays to locate all of the affected areas, building up an idea of how widespread and severe their arthritis is. From there, your vet will come up with an effective treatment plan and advise you on what steps to take.
Treating Arthritis In Dogs
Arthritis is chronic and cannot be cured. Treatment will not be about getting rid of your dog's arthritis since unfortunately, that is not possible. Instead, the goal is to mitigate the symptoms and pain so that your dog can enjoy their life as fully as possible. Another goal of treatment is to slow down the progression of arthritis so that it doesn't get any worse.
Your dog will need to undergo many lifestyle changes in order to keep their arthritis under control, as well as start taking regular medications and/or supplements.
NSAIDS, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are often prescribed by vets to dogs with arthritis. These drugs reduce inflammation and pain, making it easier for your dog to move around and resume their normal levels of activity. NSAIDs, however, also include a good deal of negative side effects for your pet, both long term and short term.
Short-term side effects of NSAIDs for dogs include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, dehydration, rashes, and lethargy. Longer-term effects include damage to vital organs like their gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidneys, and stomach. This longer-term damage is not reversible, so if your vet prescribes an NSAID, ask them about alternative medications. NSAIDs aren't particularly harmful in small amounts, but long-term treatment can have severe consequences for your pet's health.
Holistic Treatment For Arthritis In Dogs
Fortunately, there are plenty of holistic treatments for arthritis in dogs that can be used as an alternative to NSAIDs. These treatments are just as effective for treating inflammation and pain that stems from arthritis as NSAIDS, without as many (or any) harmful side effects.
CBD For Dogs With Arthritis
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a natural supplement that can be used to treat a wide range of health issues in pets and people alike, with little to no negative side effects. While there is still a stigma lingering over CBD and other hemp products, the research and evidence touting their health benefits and natural healing properties are quickly erasing that stigma.
CBD supplements for dogs are a THC-free, all-natural, holistic approach to treating your pet's arthritis. It stimulates your dog's endocannabinoid system, which regulates their mood, appetite, pain receptors, and energy levels. It also has natural anti-inflammatory properties, making it great for mitigating symptoms of arthritis.
Benefits of CBD Products:
- Reduces pain and swelling
- Treats joint and mobility issues
- Fights anxiety and depression
- Suppresses seizures and epilepsy
- Prevents cancer and reduces the side effects of cancer treatment
- Improves coat and skin condition
- Can treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Concerns About CBD Supplements
While many will love this holistic treatment for arthritis in dogs, some may have reservations, and that's perfectly understandable! There are a lot of misconceptions about CBD and other hemp products, so don't think you're in the minority if you are a little apprehensive. It shows that you're concerned about your pet's health.
Many worry that giving their pet a CBD product will give them a "high" because of the infamous reputation of marijuana. There is a distinction between marijuana and hemp, however. They are two different strains of the cannabis plant, one with THC, and one without. THC is the compound that gives marijuana users a high, and it's why the herb is popular for recreational use. Hemp, on the other hand, has a nearly non-existent percentage of THC in it, so the CBD extracted from hemp never even comes into contact with THC; CBD from hemp plants does not have any psychoactive properties.
And because hemp does not contain any THC, it's perfectly legal in all 50 states. This is why you've likely seen hemp lotions, oils, and other products at your local grocery store. Your pet can enjoy the multitude of benefits that CBD has to offer without any psychoactive side effects or legal ramifications.
Choosing The Right CBD Product For Your Dog
Your dog will reap the most benefits from CBD products through consistency; they work similar to a vitamin, and like a vitamin, are best administered on a regular basis.CBD products for dogs come in a variety of forms. Some are better suited to different needs, though most will be effective in treating your dog's symptoms. If you're unsure of which CBD product to get, CBD oils are the simplest and easiest way to introduce cannabidiol into your dog's routine. You can administer it orally in drop form, place it on treats, or mix it into their food.
There are also CBD treats and chews available for dogs, which makes it fun and easy to administer. These typically have slightly less concentrated amounts of CBD, so they're a good starting point for most pet owners. There are also CBD lotions and salves that can be applied to your dog's skin. These are particularly good for arthritis since you can apply it directly to their affected joints for fast relief.
Other Natural Treatments For Arthritis In Dogs
There are other natural remedies for dogs with arthritis that can be used in place of or in conjunction with CBD supplements. Each of these will help with slightly different areas of your dog's arthritis, so consider using a careful combination of these treatments to create a well-rounded defense for your dog's joints.
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound that your dog's system produces on its own. Glucosamine supplements increase the amount in their system, helping them repair and regrow cartilage in affected areas. Because dogs naturally produce this compound, it is considered a nutraceutical rather than a pharmaceutical. This means you can purchase it over the counter, without a prescription from a vet.
If you're familiar with curry, then you've probably heard of turmeric before. It's a root in the ginger family known for giving this dish its signature spice. Not only is it delicious, but it has natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It can manage symptoms of pain and swelling in dogs and has been used to do so for a long time in the eastern part of the world.
Yucca is another root with many nutritional and medicinal properties. It contains steroidal saponins that help to reduce pain and inflammation in dogs. Holistic vets often advise treating arthritis in dogs with this root, with a 50% to 80% success rate in reducing symptoms. It's important to note, however, that yucca can irritate your dog's digestive tract over a long period of time, so it's recommended to give them a two-day break from dosing each week.
While you may not enjoy the taste of licorice, it can be used as a quick and effective anti-inflammatory treatment for arthritis in people and animals. Licorice's primary active compound, glycyrrhizin, has a similar structure to corticosteroids without the negative side effects. It is not recommended to administer licorice to dogs that are pregnant or nursing, however, nor to administer for longer than two weeks at a time.
Comfrey is a traditional healing herb used to treat health issues like cancer and digestive issues. Compounds like rosmarinic acid give it anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, making it an effective way to manage joint pain. It should be noted that comfrey contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which can lead to liver issues in large amounts. However, comfrey leaves contain such a small percentage of PAs that it is very difficult to give your pet a harmful amount. Just make sure that you always give them the leaves, and not the roots.
Managing Weight Gain In Dogs With Arthritis
Due to their lack of mobility and energy, dogs with arthritis don't get as much exercise as they need to maintain a healthy weight. While you and your dog may think not moving is the best way to manage the pain, weight gain can actually worsen your pet's arthritis. The extra burden on your pet's joints will speed up the progression of arthritis, causing them more pain and discomfort in the long run.
Keeping your pet mentally and physically stimulated will not only improve their mood but also make them more enthusiastic about exercise. Make sure that engage with them in gentle play and familiar routines to keep their spirits up. Using an inflammatory supplement will also help to reduce their pain levels while exercising, making them less resistant to walks and light jogs. It's important to note that you should only give your dog exercise in small chunks of about 15 to 30 minutes; too much longer than this and you start to risk worsening their arthritis from extra strain.
Another key to managing your pet's weight is diet. If you notice that your pet is beginning to put on additional weight, consider switching them to a healthier dog food, or even going with a raw meat diet. BARF diets are a great way to not only reduce weight gain but keep your pet in the best shape possible.
Recovery For Dogs With Arthritis
Aside from treatment, semi-regular exercise, and dietary changes, there are other measures you can take to make your dog's quality of life better. This mostly involves reducing the chance of them causing further damage to their joints, making their environment more comfortable, and reducing inconveniences.
1. Extra padding
Around your house will make walking easier on your dog's joints and help them retain traction. Carpets, foam pads, and other soft surfaces will ease the strain of movement and prevent the formation of calluses on their paws.
2. A cozy and inviting bed
Will give your dog a safe place to rest and recuperate from the pain of arthritis. Surrounding their bed with favorite toys, pillows, and treats will help make it a sanctuary for your dog.
3. Placing food and water bowls in convenient locations
Will ensure that your dog continues to get the right amount of nutrition without causing unnecessary pain or discomfort. If your dog is older, it can also help to give them the same amount of food in smaller increments throughout the day. This helps prevent digestive problems.
4. Ramps and small steps
For different levels in your house will make it easier for your dog to navigate your home without creating too much pain. This way your dog will be able to enjoy the full span of your house without feeling confined to a specific area.
While arthritis isn't fun for you or your pet, it's definitely manageable and fairly common. Health issues like arthritis are a normal part of your dog aging, even if a little disheartening. The best thing you can do for your furry friend is to give them the most comfortable and fulfilling life you can.
There are plenty of treatment options for arthritis that will help your dog retain a high quality of life as they enter the later seasons of their years. So long as you give them a little extra care and the same abundance of love, they'll remain as happy and affectionate as ever.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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