Veterinarian for small animals and horses

Osteoarthritis in dogs - How can I help my pet?

Tzt. Elisabeth Helm GPCert SAS/SAM
Although osteoarthritis cannot be cured, the dog's quality of life can be significantly improved by optimizing living conditions, using proper pain management, and incorporating alternative methods.


Osteoarthritis of the dog - How can I help my pet?

Treatment and therapy of osteoarthritis

In old age, about 20% of our dogs suffer from joint problems, first and foremost osteoarthritis. This disease leads to pain and restrictions in mobility.

Although osteoarthritis cannot be cured, the dog's quality of life can be significantly improved by optimizing living conditions, using proper pain management, and incorporating alternative methods.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative, non-inflammatory chronic disease of the joints. It usually results from incorrect or excessive stress and, over time, pathological changes occur in the joint cartilage and bone. In short, the joint is "worn out" . Bone deformations and changes of the whole joint and surrounding tissue occur. The result is chronic pain.

What are the triggers of osteoarthritis?

Overweight, lack of exercise and an unbalanced or incorrect diet can promote the development of osteoarthritis. Joints with malpositions, which are mostly genetic, or joints that have suffered trauma are at risk of developing osteoarthritis in old age.

Some breeds, such as the Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog and Great Dane have a genetic predisposition, i.e. an increased susceptibility to developing osteoarthritis.

The most common causes of osteoarthritis

  • Overweight
    The joints of overweight animals are significantly more stressed.
  • Lack of movement
    Lack of movement leads to a reduction of the musculature and thus in turn to greater stress on the joints.
  • Nutrition
    An unbalanced diet can promote changes in the joints even in puppyhood.
  • Misalignments
    Joints with misalignments (such as knock-knees or joints with a very high step-through) promote arthrosis due to constant incorrect loading.
  • Joint trauma
    Joints that have been injured in an accident or other trauma tend to undergo arthritic changes with age.
  • Race predisposition
    A genetic predisposition to osteoarthritis has been demonstrated in some breeds.

How do I recognize osteoarthritis in my dog?

The development of osteoarthritis is a chronic process, which means that the changes usually develop slowly over months to years. Initially, pet owners observe that the dog has difficulty standing up and appears stiff. With exercise, the symptoms usually improve - the dog "runs in". In some cases, the dogs also show lameness or a relieving posture of the affected joints. As a result of this posture, tension and pain of the entire musculoskeletal system can occur.

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

During an orthopedic examination, the dog's gait is assessed first, followed by an evaluation of the mobility or painfulness of each joint. If there is any suspicion, x-rays of the affected joints are taken. The most commonly affected joints are the hip, elbow and knee joints. This examination can usually be performed without sedation/anesthesia and provides us with a good overview of the diseased joint within a few minutes.

How is osteoarthritis treated?

The therapy of osteoarthritis requires the commitment of the pet owner.

Since osteoarthritis cannot be cured, the therapy is a combination of targeted muscle building, exercise, weight control, nutrition and pain management. Unfortunately, there is no "one shot" that cures osteoarthritis and due to the chronic progression, dogs have periods without major problems, but also periods where they show significant pain. Therefore, a one-time therapy is not enough, it improves the symptoms temporarily and is also useful in acute phases, but in the long term, a movement and nutrition management is more purposeful.

Anti-inflammatory and analgesic medication must be individually tailored to each patient, depending on the severity of the symptoms. In our practice, a combination of herbal remedies given for the long term and painkillers for acute, painful phases has proven effective.

How can you help your dog with osteoarthritis?

If your dog suffers from overweight, he should urgently lose weight. The extra weight is a further burden for the joints. The weight loss should be slow and targeted, for this purpose there are special feeds that are fat - and calorie reduced, but still provide your pet with all the necessary vitamins and nutrients. In addition, a supplementary feed with green-lipped muscle extract (glycosamine and chondroitin), which has an anti-inflammatory effect and promotes cartilage formation, can be offered. Additives such as curcumin, polyphenols (green tea), MSM or devil's claw can also promote joint health.

But diet alone is not enough. Sufficient exercise is essential for muscle building (and weight loss). Regular walks on level paths are best. Long hill walks or hours of ball games are counterproductive and overload the altered joints. Some dogs, especially the Labrador, are usually real "water rats", here swimming offers a good, joint-friendly exercise option.

Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis benefit greatly from physiotherapy, where specific muscles can be built up and tension released. Swimming training is also offered by physiotherapists and can promote muscle development without stressing the joints.

Therapy of arthrosis

  • Weight control
  • Chondroitin & Glycosamine
  • Regular exercise
  • Swimming
  • Physiotherapy
  • Vegetable additives
  • Pain therapy

The therapy of osteoarthritis should always be adapted to the individual needs of the dog and cannot be carried out in the same way across the board for every patient.

We will be happy to advise you on any questions regarding the health of your pet.

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About the author
Tzt. Elisabeth Helm GPCert SAS/SAM
Tzt. Elisabeth Helm GPCert SAS/SAM

Elisabeth Helm has over 10 years of professional experience as a veterinarian. She completed her studies at the LMU Munich and subsequently trained as a General Practitioner for small animal medicine and surgery at the International School of Veterinary Postgraduate Studies. In 2013 she founded the veterinary practice Uderns in the Zillertal.

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