Identifying Signs of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis affects 1 in 5 dogs, and its prevalence increases as dogs age; it is therefore very likely your dog has or will get osteoarthritis.

Certain breeds are more predisposed, such as large to medium breeds; and certain lifestyles can promote its development such as hard exercise or long-term obesity. In the majority of cases the owner is not to blame.

Osteoarthritis tends to reveal itself late in its course, because the initial changes are within the joint and therefore not visible, plus because your dog has 4 limbs, they can shift weight, change posture and cope. It is common that owners will not notice changes in their dog’s willingness to exercise, ability to do what they used to do, and changes in the way their dog walks and runs, till they have significant arthritis.

Most owners arrive at the vets saying ’he’s slowing up’ or ‘he’s getting old’; they do not realise this is because their dog is in significant pain, as they expect them to whimper, yelp, or limp. BUT dogs do not show pain like we do. Some dogs cope so well with the discomfort in one or more joints that the owner is shocked to find they have arthritis. Heartbreaking when finally they can cope no more and start to limp or even struggle to stand and support their own weight.

Diagnosing and therefore treating arthritis relies on the owner noticing changes in their dog’s mobility and posture; the way they walk, run or lie down; their capabilities; the fact they cannot get up the steps without bunny-hopping, or hesitate getting into the car; and behaviour –  that they are less enthusiastic during their routine walks, or they choose to sleep more and become less social.

Osteoarthritis will be presented differently by each dog. One dog may limp, another may be less enthusiastic to walk. The signs are wide ranging and can be similar to other diseases such as heart disease, lung disease or even spinal disease. An accurate veterinary diagnosis is essential, so please consult your vet to be sure.

Remember...arthritis causes chronic pain which is an insidious, consistent and often low-intensity pain which can be hard to identify. A good analogy would be dental pain in ourselves, we wouldn’t necessarily look different, but we may eat differently and seem anti-social and distracted.

Humans highlight the presence of chronic pain by talking about it as it often not visible, whereas animals express it behaviourally. Your vet may have to put your dog on pain relief to see if the signs that they were showing were actually pain related.

“MOST CANINE PATIENTS DO NOT VOCALISE FROM THEIR PAIN FROM ARTHRITIS, AND MANY PET OWNERS DO NOT BELIEVE THEIR PET IS IN PAIN IF IT DOES NOT VOCALISE,”

~ Fox and Mills