“My dog is just stiff because he is old”
You might be surprised to know that vets hear this a lot! Whilst it’s true that older dogs are more likely to get stiff joints, there is certainly a lot we can do to make these dogs more comfortable. Joint stiffness is a sign of pain and is normally caused by arthritis. This is something we can help dogs with!
Arthritis is the most common cause of long-term pain in dogs
It can develop in younger dogs too
It is a complex disease and there are many factors involved
Dogs are very good at hiding their pain, so we don’t always recognise it
BUT - once we do, there are many things we can do to help them
Understanding what arthritis is can really help us to help them!
What is arthritis?
Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis, is a very common cause of pain and joint stiffness in dogs.
It means “inflammation of the joints”. It is this inflammation, and the changes in the joint it causes, that makes arthritis painful.
80% of dogs over the age of 8 years old suffer from arthritis, so we know that there are a lot of older dogs in pain. However, it is not always easy for us to recognise that.
It should also be noted that arthritis can be found in young animals, so any ongoing joint stiffness is worth investigating further.
What causes arthritis?
Joints are where bones meet. The end of each bone is covered by smooth and hard-wearing cartilage, and this allows the bones to glide easily over each other when the joint is moving.
As a dog gets older, there is wear and tear on the cartilage in the joints. This damage makes it less thick and smooth, and causes the bones to grind against each other inside the joint, causing inflammation and pain.
The inflammation causes further damage, which in turn causes even more pain, leading to a cycle of inflammation, damage and pain.
Over time, the body also adds new bone growth around the joint, leading to further stiffness and pain.
What are the effects of arthritis on the body?
Deterioration of the cartilage within the joint causes pain and discomfort (often simply considered to be ‘stiffness’)
Dogs are exceptionally good at hiding pain so we may not notice that they are suffering in the early stages.
The pain in the limb causes the dog to reduce the use of this limb, shifting pressure to other limbs.
In the affected limb we may see muscles, ligaments and tendons becoming weak.
In the meantime our other limbs will be under increased strain which puts them at risk of further damage!
During this process the dog's brain also becomes more sensitive to pain, and can magnify their response to any source of discomfort in a process called central sensitisation.