"Some frequently asked questions about canine arthritis

"Some frequently asked questions about canine arthritis

Health & Safety

Arthritis is a problem that a significant number of dogs will face at some point of their lives, and generally is most common in mature and elderly dogs, along with other degenerative conditions of the joints. As it is also a common human condition, most people have a basic understanding of what arthritis is and its basic effects on the person or dog afflicted by it, but arthritis is also complex and varied, and comes in a range of different forms.

Once a dog is diagnosed with arthritis, your vet should be able to explain exactly what this means for the dog in more detail, and work with you to establish a plan to manage the condition and ease the effects that it has on your dog. However, it is a good idea for all dog lovers and dog owners to gain a basic understanding of the condition and the different technical terms used to describe it, as this can help to make things easier and more straightforward when speaking with your vet.

In this article, we will explain some of the commonly used technical phrases uses when referring to canine arthritis, and cover some of the most frequently asked questions about the condition. Read on to learn more.

What is arthritis?

In its simplest terms, arthritis is an inflammatory condition of the joints, which causes swelling of the affected joints, leading to pain and stiffness. This can make the dog reluctant to move, which in turn exacerbates the condition, as exercise and gentle movement can often ease the pain.

It tends to worsen with age, and in some dogs, will not become apparent until maturity or old age.

The different types of arthritis in the dog

Canine arthritis comes in two forms: inflammatory, and non-inflammatory. The non-inflammatory form of the condition manifests as degeneration of the joints, but without an accompanying fever or other symptoms that can affect the whole body as a systemic condition.

Inflammatory arthritis itself is classed in two forms, being either immune-mediated or infectious. Infectious arthritis occurs when the immune system itself leads to joint damage and problems due to being out of balance, while infectious arthritis occurs when a bacterial infection invades the joints, leading to inflammation.

Sub-types of arthritis and how serious they are

The prognosis for any given dog with arthritis will generally come down to the fine details of the condition, as well as the stage at which they are diagnosed. Some of the most common forms and their prognosis include:

  • Non-erosive arthritis: The prognosis is fair to good, and may be able to be put into remission.
  • Erosive: Remission is possible, but the condition can rarely be fully resolved.
  • Septic arthritis: The prognosis depends on the degree of damage already caused within the cartilage.

Some common terms used to describe arthritis

Inflammatory and non-inflammatory arthritis, as outlined above, are the two most common terms used when explaining or describing the condition in the dog. However, a range of other terms are also commonly used when explaining the condition and parts of the bones, and it can be helpful to check your basic understanding of these terms and their usage.

  • Femoral head: The top of the long leg bone.
  • Osteophyte: A spur in the joint of a bone, which leads to pain.
  • Cytology: The study of the cells contained in the fluid of the joint.
  • Sclerosis: Hardening.
  • Acetabulum: The area of the pelvis where the femoral head sits in the socket of the ball and socket joint.
  • Fibrosis: A loss of stretch, literally, thickening of the bone or muscle.
  • Subchondral: The layer underneath the cartilage.

What types of dog are most likely to develop arthritis?

Arthritis is a much more common problem in large and giant breeds of dogs than in smaller breeds, due to the sheer weight of the dog and the amount of pressure that this places on the limbs. Larger breeds go through a much more rapid phase of growth plate development when they are young, which can place additional strain on the growing joints, and overexertion when the dog is small can easily lead to problems down the line.

Septic arthritis is most commonly found in male dogs of sporting breeds; however, any breed or type of dog can potentially develop arthritis at some stage of their lives.

How can you tell if your dog is developing arthritis?

If your dog undergoes behavioural changes such as a reluctance to exercise, stiffness when waking, or snapping when you handle them around the limbs, you should always contact your vet in order to have them perform a thorough investigation.

Some of the most common changes that arthritis brings, and which will become apparent to the dog’s owner include:

  • An intolerance for exercise and lack of enthusiasm for play.
  • Lameness in any limb.
  • Being slow to get moving after sleep.
  • Wobbling or appearing unstable when walking.
  • Pain or soreness in the limbs.
  • Heat radiating from the joints.
  • Joint swelling.
  • Loss of muscle.
  • An unusual walking or running gait.
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