Canine arthritis may be thought of as affecting only older dogs. But this painful bone and joint condition has many types and causes, and it can affect dogs of any age. Arthritis is especially heartbreaking in puppies because it may subject them to years of pain or inactivity. With early diagnosis and proper care and treatment, a puppy with arthritis can grow to lead a long, happy life.
Arthritis is a degenerative bone disease caused by the breaking down of the cartilage that protects the bones that form a joint. As the cartilage erodes, the bones rub against each other, causing pain and inflammation. In older dogs, it is often caused by years of wear and tear on their joints. In puppies, the condition is often caused by a genetic bone deformity such as hip dysplasia, in which the bones in the hip joints are not properly aligned and rub against the sockets. Dysplasia can also occur in the legs and shoulders. Osteochondrosis, a disorder in which a puppy’s leg bones grow too fast and tear the cartilage of the shoulder or elbow joint, can cause arthritis. Dysplasia and osteochondrosis most often occur in large dog breeds. Other causes of puppy arthritis are skeletal system trauma, ruptured knee or shoulder ligaments, nutritional deficiencies, joint infection, immune-system conditions and certain tick-borne diseases.
Arthritis in puppies manifests as it does in older dogs: You might first notice a stiffness in the legs, especially in the morning. Your pup may be reluctant to jump on you or the furniture, or to go down stairs. He may yelp or show lameness when walking or running; you may notice swelling or heat around a joint.
Your veterinarian has several means of diagnosing arthritis. His first action will be to watch your pup walk. A physical examination and blood work can pinpoint areas of pain and may rule out other conditions. Radiographs of the affected area may show bone spurs, deformities or cartilage tears.
Physical therapy such as swimming or moderate exercise can preserve muscle mass and increase joint flexibility. Feed your friend a high-quality diet that will provide proper nutrition and limit weight gain. Get help from your veterinarian or veterinary physical therapist to design an exercise and diet program. Your vet may recommend supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin to help repair and prevent further destruction of cartilage. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs will reduce pain and inflammation; a few actually provide some protection against further cartilage erosion. Check with your dog’s vet before giving any pain medication. Massage therapy and acupuncture may also provide pain relief.
You can make some changes to your pup’s environment to make him more comfortable. Consider building or buying portable ramps to help him navigate stairs, get into cars and climb onto furniture if permitted. Raise his food and water dish so he doesn’t have to bend down to eat or drink. Cold exacerbates arthritis, so provide a warm, cushioned surface for sleeping and resting. Of course, give him plenty of love and attention.
- Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images