If your older dog appears to be slowing down or having difficulty moving, she may be suffering from arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Though there is no cure for progressive degeneration of the joints, surgical and other types of treatment of your pet's ailment can help relieve her symptoms and make her more comfortable.
Types of Degenerative Joint Disease
The most common type of degenerative joint disease in dogs is osteoarthritis -- a progressive and debilitating deterioration of the cartilage around the joints, which causes chronic joint inflammation. Left untreated, the chronic inflammation can create bony spurs which further damage the joint tissue and may require surgical removal. Osteoarthritis is likely to occur in your dog's hips, knees, elbows or wrists. Other types of joint disease include inflammatory joint disease, caused by bacteria, fungal infection or tick-borne illness, and hereditary immune disorders that cause your pet's immune system to attack healthy joints.
Surgical Treatment for DJD
If your dog's DJD is severe, your veterinarian may recommend one of several surgical procedures to reduce your pet's physical discomfort, improve her ability to move, and relieve some of the pressure on her joints. Arthroscopic surgery -- a procedure in which the vet makes tiny incisions in your dog's skin -- is helpful in cleaning out cartilage debris, resculpting joint deformities, and rebuilding or fusing two or more joints. If your dog's joints are extremely degenerated, your vet may suggest joint replacement surgery.
Alternatives to Surgery
Mild DJD may respond well to non-surgical treatments, including weight management, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, vitamin supplements, light exercise and physical rehabilitation, and inflammation-reducing foods, including an increase in omega-3 fatty acids. Your vet may suggest managing your dog's pain with prescription or over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Oral or injected glucocorticoids can help reduce joint inflammation, but they are only a short-term solution and should be used sparingly. Enzyme-inhibiting chondroprotectants may help delay the onset of DJD when injected in puppies or dogs with congenital DJD, but they must be administered prior to the onset of arthritic symptoms to be effective.
Prevention of DJD is Preferable to Surgery
Though surgical options may help treat the long-term debilitating effects of DJD, it's better to prevent its occurrence entirely. Choose your breeder carefully when purchasing a pet, and ask to see the X-rays of your prospective puppy's parents' hips and joints. Don't overfeed or overexercise your puppy, and make sure her diet has plenty of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids to strengthen her bones and lubricate her joints. Make sure your dog's bedding is soft and comfortable to avoid the bone or joint pressure that can occur from lying in uncomfortable positions. If you notice any unusual signs of joint discomfort in your dog, take her to the veterinarian promptly. Early detection is imperative in slowing the progression of DJD.