Diagnosing Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a degenerative joint disease that occurs when the cartilage in your dog's joints begins to break down. Usually, this occurs naturally with age, as your dog's body stops producing adequate amounts of glucosamine.

Canine Osteoarthritis Explained

Osteoarthritis occurs when your dog's joints begin to deteriorate, usually as the dog gets older. With age, your dog's body produces less glucosamine, a substance that helps maintain joint and cartilage health. As cartilage deteriorates, your dog's bones begin to rub together, causing pain and inflammation. With time, bone spurs and thickening of the tissue around the joints can occur.

Osteoarthritis can affect any of the joints in your dog's body. Usually, however, it strikes the joints in the hips, elbows, lower back, knees and wrists.

Causes of Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can affect dogs for a number of reasons. Some typical causes of canine osteoarthritis include:

  • Old age
  • Congential joint problems like hip dysplasia, which can effect the movement of the joint
  • Injury to the joint
  • High levels of activity
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic disease

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis in dogs can cause symptoms that may appear similar to those of other diseases, like Lyme disease, and may therefore be difficult for owners to identify. When osteoarthritis is the result of old age, owners may believe that their dog is simply slowing down and may not realize that his reduced activity level is the result of chronic pain. Symptoms of osteoarthritis may vary in intensity but always grow worse with time; they include:

  • Stiffness
  • Reduced activity levels
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty standing, sitting, lying down and squatting
  • Pain and inflammation in the joints; swelling of the joints
  • Lethargy
  • Yelps or howls of pain

Diagnosing Canine Osteoarthritis

Your vet will take into account your dog's age and medical history when diagnosing canine osteoarthritis. He'll also perform a physical exam and may take X-rays of your dog's joints. Because the anti-inflammatory drugs used in the treatment of canine osteoarthritis can be damaging to the liver and kidneys, your vet may want to perform blood tests to determine the health of these organs before prescribing pain medication.

Treating Canine Osteoarthritis

There are a number of strategies for treating osteoarthritis in dogs. Overweight or obese dogs should be encouraged to lose weight; excess weight puts unnecessary strain on the joints and can worsen the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Gentle exercise, especially a low-impact exercise like swimming, can help maintain and improve joint mobility while reducing pain in the joints.

Anti-inflammatory drugs are available to help ease the pain assocated with canine osteoarthritis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin can be safely administered to dogs to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis without risking damage to the liver or kidneys. Corticosteroids may be administered to reduce inflammation but carry many side effects and can be dangerous if used long term.

Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are safe for use in dogs and can help reduce, and even reverse, the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Your dog's body produces glucosamine naturally, and the substance helps maintain cartilage health. Glucosamine supplements can help rebuild damaged and deteriorated cartilage in your dog's joints, relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis.