It may not occur to most people that a dog’s joints are just as susceptible to injury and disease as theirs. Dogs may experience infection, trauma or immune-mediated disease during their life that can lead to long-term consequences in the joints, even if the original problem is resolved. Alternatively, dogs are at risk of developing arthritis, or inflammation of the joint, as they age, regardless of whether they have had previous joint problems.
The joints may be affected by infection, immune-mediated disease or traumatic injuries such as fractures or ligament tears. Even after these problems are resolved or repaired, the joints are often left damaged due to instability, loss of cartilage or remodeling of bone. These changes can lead to joint soreness, lameness and decreased mobility, all of which can significantly affect your dog’s quality of life.
Degenerative Joint Disease
One of the most common joint diseases in dogs is degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis. This condition results from breakdown of the cartilage within the joint that occurs as your dog ages, leading to increased bone contact and less cushioning effect. The resulting symptoms are identical to those previously mentioned, and therefore treatment recommendations are often the same.
You should always consult with your veterinarian if you note symptoms of joint disease or degeneration in your dog. Your veterinarian will be able to evaluate your dog for any underlying problems that could be contributing to your dog’s decline, and will be able to make the best recommendations for treatment. One of the most common medical treatments prescribed for joint problems is anti-inflammatory medication, which not only controls inflammation within the joints, but also provides pain relief. There are also medications that can slow the degeneration of the cartilage and lead to formation of new cartilage substances. Additional pain medications may be prescribed if your dog’s mobility is still affected after these initial treatments.
Physical therapy for dogs is becoming an increasingly popular option for improving mobility and decreasing pain in dogs affected by joint disease. Physical therapy exercises result in improved range of motion of affected joints, leading to easier, less painful movement. These exercises also serve to maintain and strengthen muscle mass, which is essential for supporting the affected joints. Physical therapy tools are expanding every day, but current programs routinely include the use of exercise balls, underwater treadmills, agility-style courses and laser therapy.
For those who would prefer a less conventional treatment option for their dog, alternative therapies are becoming more prevalent every day. One of the most common alternative practices for joint disease is acupuncture therapy. Small needles are inserted at certain acupuncture points over the body, resulting in release of natural pain-relieving substances, relaxation of muscles, and improved blood flow to muscles and joints. Dogs tolerate the needles extremely well and experience no adverse effects. A practice that is often combined with acupuncture is tissue massage. Your dog can enjoy the same benefits from a soothing massage that people do, all while experiencing an improved quality of life due relief of pain and enhanced joint function.
- Manual of Small Animal Surgery; Theresa W. Fossum and Cheryl S. Hedlund
- UCDavis: Physical Therapy in Canine Rehabilitation
- PetMD: Acupuncture for Pets