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Osteoarthritis: The #1 Cause of Chronic Pain in Dogs

I frequently have pet owners tell me that their dogs are slowing down with age, and describe stiffness, reluctance to rise, or a lack of interest in usual activities. Often, they also say, “It’s just a part of getting older.”

But does it have to be? The answer is no, fortunately not.

Symptoms of chronic pain are common in older dogs, and are frequently due to osteoarthritis (OA), an inflammatory and degenerative joint disease. It is the number one cause of chronic pain in dogs, affecting one in five of our canine companions.

The hallmarks of OA are cartilage and bone damage in joints, which lead to pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. OA is diagnosed by history, physical examination, and x-rays.

OA occurs due to genetic and environmental factors.

Some dogs are born with abnormal joint structure or are more prone to OA, while others have stressed joints from being overweight or from previous injuries. A combination of these factors are usually present in any individual dog.

OA is treated with multiple therapies at the same time.

Although OA cannot be cured, medications and lifestyle changes can significantly slow disease progression, reduce pain, and improve quality of life.

The Big Four: Cornerstones of OA Therapy

  1. Weight loss: Stress on joints is made worse by excess body weight, so weight loss should be a top priority for any overweight pet with OA. A healthy body weight is determined by a well-defined waist, and ribs that can be easily felt, but not seen. Human food should be kept to a minimum and meals should be measured exactly rather than “filling the bowl”. A prescription weight loss diet can make your pet’s weight loss program much easier, as these foods allow your dog to feel full without adding too many calories.

  2. NSAIDs: Veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as Carprofen, are highly effective at reducing inflammation and controlling pain. Though generally safe, blood work is necessary to make sure that your dog’s kidneys and liver are capable of handling these medications long-term. Human NSAIDs such as Advil and Aleve should never be given to dogs.

  3. ​Joint support/supplements: Oral supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids can help protect cartilage and reduce inflammation. Many veterinary products are available, and often come in an easy chewable form. Injectable joint support in the clinic is also available and complementary to oral supplementation.

  4. Staying active: Light exercise improves cardiovascular health, encourages weight loss, and improves joint mobility. In particular, swimming is an excellent choice for dogs with OA, as it improves cardiovascular fitness and builds muscle without stressing joints.

If you think you’re dog is “just getting older”, then consider the possibility that this may be due to a treatable medical condition. If OA is diagnosed, then we can design a custom, comprehensive treatment plan. Together, we can ensure that your furry buddy’s golden years are good ones.

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