What to do if your dog is becoming less mobile
Many dogs suffer from joint problems at some point in their lives. In most cases this doesn't become a problem until later in life, but unfortunately young dogs can also be affected. A common misconception among dog owners is that dogs will cry when they are in pain. Unfortunately, this is not always the case! Dogs can show that they are in pain in many other ways, but it is up to the owner to notice these signs. We must also realise that many dogs will keep coming to their owners, even if this causes them mild to severe pain. In this article, we will discuss the problems of joint pain. As a dog owner, how do you recognise joint problems and how can we treat them?
What are joints?
A joint is a connection between two or more bones that move against each other. This may be in the form of a ball and socket (such as the hip joint), but it can also be in the form of a hinge (such as the metacarpals). The bones are covered by a layer of cartilage and the space between the bones contains the viscous synovial fluid. This synovial fluid creates a smooth movement between the bones and also feeds the cartilage. All this is surrounded by the joint capsule and the ligaments create stability.
How do joint problems arise in dogs?
There are many different causes that may lead to such problems. A dog may be genetically affected, as is often the case in animals with hip or elbow dysplasia. This is the reason why in some cases significantly more joint problems are found within certain breeds or blood lines. This is why a radiographic examination is often carried out into the health of the parents when breeding dogs.
External factors can also play a big role. These may include overloading the joints, obesity, an insufficiently adapted diet, trauma or inflammation. This may cause damage to the cartilage, resulting in a sterile inflammatory reaction. Damage or breakdown of cartilage will barely recover. Once this process has started, it becomes a vicious circle and is difficult to get under control. After some time, the bone can even be affected or abnormal bone growth can occur in the joint.
What symptoms may indicate joint problems?
Joint problems are always accompanied by pain when moving. As a result, dogs will struggle to get up and we often see that their first steps are stiff or difficult. The dog might even have a limp. This is typically the case when dogs get out of their bed in the morning or after they have been resting for a longer period of time. When the dogs have walked around for a bit and have warmed up, they often walk a lot more smoothly. Unfortunately, it is also regularly the case that dogs will stay in their bed more often, because getting up causes them too much pain. This sometimes goes unnoticed by the owner or is passed off as a normal sign of ageing. Only when the problems are dealt with will the owner notice that the dog is getting up more readily and seems "younger". In hindsight, the dog was suffering a lot more than was suspected. Limping after a long walk or after a big physical effort can also be a sign of joint pain. This limping does not necessarily have to be visible all the time. Some animals only limp occasionally.
How are joint problems diagnosed?
If you suspect that your pet has joint problems, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. He will carry out a physical/orthopaedic examination and can also have a radiographic examination carried out if necessary. In some cases, additional medical imaging, such as a CT scan, can also be needed. Your veterinarian can refer you to a specialist clinic for this. Just like in human medicine, there are also specialists working in animal medicine. They have specialised in a certain area, such as orthopaedics.
What can we do about it?
Of course, the treatment of joint problems depends on the cause. Sometimes an orthopaedic surgeon may need to operate on your pet. This may be the case if there is a loose piece of bone in the joint space or if joint problems have been cause by a torn ligament in the knee. In the event of osteoarthritis/joint wear (and some other joint problems), the condition cannot be reversed. The only thing we can do in these cases is to offer the dog the best possible quality of life. In order to achieve that goal, it is essential that we pay close attention to several areas and make various changes.
An optimal body weight
It is very important that the joints are not under more strain than necessary. Obesity is a major contributory factor to the pain experienced by dogs with joint problems. These (and really all) dogs benefit from a healthy body weight. In order to achieve this, you will usually need to make changes to the dog's diet. In many cases, more exercise is not an option for animals with joint problems. Special diets for dogs with joint problems (see below) can contribute to a healthy body weight. Ideally, these dogs should even be slightly lighter than their ideal weight.
Improvements can usually also be made to the pet's home. Dogs must never rest directly on a cold or wet floor. In addition, whilst resting, the body should be supported optimally with a correct alignment of the spine. This prevents pressure on the joints. Special mattresses are available for this, such as the Medidog Orthopaedic Dog Pillow.
There are various supplements available that contribute to the reduction of inflammation and pain. These promote an optimal condition of synovial fluid and support the joint cartilage. This increases the mobility of the joints and allows the dog to get up and walk more smoothly. These products can be combined with pain medication. In some cases, the number of painkillers given can be reduced in time or even be stopped altogether! Supplements are available in various forms, so that you can choose which form of administration is best for you and your dog. Supplements include Sashas Blend, Cosequin DS or PrimeVal Gelatinate for Dogs.
If you prefer not to give your pet separate supplements, you can choose a specific diet, suited to your pet's needs. An additional advantage of these diets is that they are low in energy, which also allows your pet to reach their ideal body weight. Examples of these diets include Royal Canin Mobility C2P+ Canine, Hill's j/d Joint Care - Prescription Diet and Sanimed Osteoarthritis.
The amount of exercise and especially the type of exercise that the dog gets must be taken into account. The expression "Rest makes you rust" definitely applies here. Dogs with joint problems absolutely need to keep moving, but their movement must be limited in certain areas. Playing fetch can be lots of fun, but your dog will pay the price for this later! Long walks and going up and down stairs must be avoided, as well as rotating movements. More frequent short walks are preferable, and in a straight line if possible. There is no correct guideline that applies to all dogs, this is something that you as the owner will have the best idea of. Your veterinarian may be able to help you with this. Physiotherapy and swimming can also constitute positive contributions.
In certain cases medication can be required. This may be temporary, but sometimes dogs with severe symptoms will need lifelong medication. This nearly always involves painkillers, and in some cases these are combined with anabolic steroids. These products ensure that muscle mass is maintained, so that the joints are under less strain.
Joint problems can seriously affect your dog's well-being. You should therefore pay close attention to the symptoms above and always consult your veterinarian if in doubt. Pain signals can be subtle and, as a result, dogs can suffer from these symptoms for a long time before they are noticed. Joint conditions cannot always be prevented, but in many cases a suitable treatment can be prescribed once they are diagnosed. This will improve your dog's well-being and will ensure that exercise continues to be fun for you and for your dog!