My 12 year old Bichon started refusing to jump on or off the bed when I call her. She also is not jumping in and out of the car on days I take her with me. Sometimes it takes her awhile to stand up if she’s been resting. She seems fine otherwise. Do dogs get arthritis and become painful as they age? What can I do?
Arthritis is a general term that describes inflammation inside of the joint or joints. Arthritis may result from a variety of different causes, but the most common type is osteoarthritis, also know as degenerative joint disease (DJD).
DJD is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs and has been estimated to affect one out of every five adult dogs. Joints contain cartilage which acts as a cushion. In DJD the cartilage becomes damaged and releases substances that cause inflammation in the joint. The inflammation results in pain and causes even further damage to the cartilage. Thus, a vicious cycle of inflammation, pain and destruction continues.
Some dogs are at an increased risk for developing DJD. Risk factors include inactivity, overweight or obese body condition, age over 5 years old and previous joint injury.
Certain breeds are predisposed to developmental bone disorders such as hip dysplasia or patellar luxation (“floating kneecap”). These congenital abnormalities also increase the risk of arthritis development. Hip dysplasia is commonly seen in Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, Golden retrievers, Bulldogs, Pugs and Rottweilers. Top breeds for patellar luxation include Pomeranians, Yorkshire terriers, Cocker spaniels, Chow chows and Lhasa apsos.
Signs of arthritis in dogs may include any of the following: reluctance to go up or down stairs; stiffness, especially after resting; limping; tiring more quickly or falling behind on walks; difficulty jumping – such as on or off the bed or in or out of the car as your Bichon is experiencing; trouble rising; preferring to lie down instead of standing or sitting
Although osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that cannot be cured, there are options available to help increase your dog’s comfort and slow the progression of the disease. If your Bichon is overweight, it is very important that she lose weight. The excess weight not only adds stress to the already damaged joints, the fat cells themselves release inflammatory mediators that further damage the cartilage.
Even if you pet is a normal weight, there are other beneficial diets that need to be considered. Several veterinary pet food companies make prescription foods formulated to improve joint health. These foods are rich in certain nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids which interrupt cartilage destruction and L-carnitine to help maintain a healthy weight. There are even foods, such as Prescription Diet® Metabolic + Mobility, that help manage a dog’s weight and support joint health.
Analgesics are another mainstay of osteoarthritis management. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) target inflammatory enzymes that produce pain and worsen cartilage damage. There are other pain medications that can be used if additional pain control is needed or if your pet does not tolerate NSAIDs. Nutritional supplements such as Dasuquin Advanced, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants can also be beneficial.
Remember that all medications have potential side effects, and many human medications, including pain relievers, can actually be dangerous or deadly to pets. Never give ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen to your pet. It is important to discuss with your veterinarian what is appropriate for your dog.
Taking a “multi-modal” approach to arthritis, including dietary changes, analgesics, proper exercise and dietary supplements, provides the best way to help your Bichon enjoy her senior years in comfort.