Arthritis is a life-long condition, and our aim is to manage it, not cure it. Luckily there are lots of things we can do to slow down the changes we see, and to keep our dogs more comfortable.
The most important thing to do is to become aware of when our dogs are uncomfortable
Using several different approaches to treatment at once tends to work best
We have to bear in mind that we can’t fix arthritis, and there will be bad days as well as good - being in tune with our dog’s pain signals can really help reduce the bad days
Our dogs’ needs may change with time too
If we work together, hopefully we can slow down the progress of this disease
The things you can do are just as important as the things the vet can!
What can vets do to help?
When you bring your dog to the vet, we will examine them thoroughly. We may recommend some more tests, such as xrays, or scans, and blood tests to rule out underlying causes, and to check your dog’s organs are working well and can cope with medicines.
After this, your vet will probably discuss medicines, surgery options, and things that can be done at home. It is important to note that you are crucial in helping your dog, and the things you do at home are just as important as the things the vet can do!
Let’s look at these options more closely.
Surgery can be used in young dogs with genetic joint abnormalities to try to prevent arthritis developing, in dogs with established arthritis to alter the load on the joint or to remove fragments of bone or cartilage, and in dogs with advanced arthritis to remove or replace the joint or joint surface.
You and your vet will make the decision about whether surgery is the best option, together. It is always a case of looking at the risks (e.g. a general anaesthetic, healing time, risk of
complications or failure) versus the potential benefits (e.g. little or no pain, better movement, less need for medication). Surgery can be expensive, and your dog will need scans or xrays before and after the procedure.
Even after surgery, your dog will most likely need other management options too.
Medicines for arthritis are advancing all the time as our understanding of the disease improves. Medicines aim to give pain relief, and also to reduce the inflammation in the joint that causes pain. Using more than one type of medicine tends to have the best effect - this is called multimodal pain relief.
The types of medicines we use include:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
And what can I do?
There is so much you can do! But fear not; you don’t need to make all these changes at once, plus your dog’s needs may change with time.
Let's break them down again:
This is going to be very individual to your dog, but our general advice is to do lower impact, shorter walks more frequently.
There are also some other things to bear in mind:
If your dog likes chasing a ball, they can keep running even when they are in pain as they are so motivated to do it! However, they will pay for it later! Uneven or hard surfaces will be more painful to them, and they are more likely to trip and stumble over large steps and obstacles. They will follow you to the ends of the earth, but this doesn’t mean they are not in pain - and they don’t realise they have as far to go back as they did going out!
Keeping our dogs’ brains active can really help to improve their quality of life when they can’t go for long walks. We can do this using enrichment activities. We think there are so many reasons enrichment is important, we’ve made a whole article about it! [link to article]
We know that if our dogs are overweight, this makes their arthritis worse. If they are overweight, the good news is losing weight can really improve their symptoms, and as an added bonus, it may reduce the dose of medication they need to take.
But how do we know if our dog is overweight?
This may sound like a silly question, but actually, we are getting more and more used to seeing dogs that have more body fat than they should have. So when we see a dog that is actually the ideal weight, they may even look too slim to our eyes! It can also be difficult to weigh your dog at home, and there is a lot of variation in weight between individuals - just like in humans! So vets like to recommend body condition scoring as well as regular weight checks. This is where we look at our dogs’ shape, and feel over their body to see how much fat we can feel beneath the skin. We can then give them a score between 1 and 9, 1 being extremely thin, and 9 being dangerously overweight (morbidly obese).
If your dog needs to lose weight, don’t panic. There is lots your vet can do to help. We can look at what your dog is eating now, and help you to adapt their diet to reduce the number of calories they are eating whilst keeping their hunger satisfied! We can even recommend prescription foods that are designed to do just that. We can also look at ways to make them work harder for the food we give them, such as puzzles and feeding mats.
Making the home arthritis friendly
This is where doggy parents can get really involved! There are so many things you can do to make your home safer and more comfortable for your four legged friend.
Slippy floors can be made safer using rugs or mats. You can also get stick on grip tape for places where rugs or mats are not suitable.
Stairs can be really hard work for arthritic pets. Where possible, try to reduce the need for your dog to use them. Using baby stair gates can stop them getting the urge to follow you up stairs or down. If they really have to use stairs, finding ways to support and steady them may help.
Getting in and out of the house or car
Raised sills in doorways can be a trip risk, and jumping up or down into the house or car is often painful for arthritic dogs. Providing a step or ramp makes life a lot easier and safer. In the car, make sure your dog has a comfortable and secure area to travel in.
Make sure bowls are not on a slippy surface. Some dogs may benefit from slightly raised bowls - check with your vet first.
Make your dog’s sleeping area as comfy as possible. Their bed should be easy to get in to and out of, and on a non-slip surface. Make sure they sleep away from draughts as this can make their aches and pains worse. You will find all sorts of lovely supportive beds out there now, it can be hard to choose! Our top tip is to make sure it is bigger than your dog though, so they have plenty of room to get comfy (although they will probably still end up curled up at one end!)
Many dogs won’t need baths that often as they get older, but if they do, they can be tricky for arthritic dogs. Using a non-slip mat can help, as can using a shower cubicle if possible so it is easy for your dog to get in and out. Some dogs get very anxious about baths - if this is your dog some training may be required to make it safe for both of you. Keeping things calm is key; Adaptil may help with this. Distraction with a licky mat or filled toy may also help to make it a more positive experience.
So you see there is plenty we can tweak to help our arthritic dogs, and so much more to learn! Of course, your vet will always be there to guide you when you need them.
If you have any questions on arthritis and your dog or would like more information on how you can improve your dogs arthritis management, alongside your veterinary practice the team here at MyDogDoc are happy to assist.