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Arthritis in dogs falls into one of two possible categories: developmental or degenerative. Developmental arthritis means that the joint juncture did not fully or properly form, leading to chronic arthritis. Degenerative arthritis occurs through the normal wear-and-tear we expect to see in playful, active dogs. This often means that ligaments connecting muscle to joints or bones degenerates over time, leading to canine arthritis. As with hip dysplasia and other joint- and muscle-related conditions, large breeds, overweight dogs, and working dogs are most at risk for developing canine arthritis.
The first sign of canine arthritis is decreased activity and mobility. You may notice that your dog is less eager to run outside as soon as you get home from work or seems to climb up on the bed more slowly than usual. From there, arthritis pain can progressinto total or near-total lameness, and you may notice your dog holding up a limb to avoid walking on it or limping noticeably. The progression of arthritis can vary in speed depending upon many factors such as your dog’s activity level and age.
Treatment options for canine arthritis vary, but generally fall into surgical and non-surgical options. Surgical treatments range from a minimally-invasive “cleaning” of the afflicted joint all the way up to total joint replacement, and costs vary drastically. Non-surgical options often begin with weight management to minimize the stress on the joints and muscles. Medications will often include anti-inflammatories, analgesics, and pain relievers, and your vet may recommend you switch your dog to a food specially-formulated for arthritis management. Additionally, low-impact exercise like swimming is highly recommended for building up your dog’s strength. Strengthening the muscles helps improve mobility and stability in the affected joints.
If you begin to notice any of the early warning signs of canine arthritis in your dog, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Most pet insurance carriers (PetFirst included!) will cover canine arthritis treatments, but check with your carrier for full details. Early treatments and interventions can help keep your pup happy and active for years to come.