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If your dog is acting lethargic, he may have a joint problem.

Arthritis, which literally means inflamed joints, is an umbrella term for many forms of joint disease. Imagine a machine with well-oiled parts working smoothly, all valves pumping, all parts meshing together. Then, for some reason, one part bends or the lubricating fluid dries up. Over time, the parts begin to wear down or grind together until something gives way. Thats what happens when your dogs joints become arthritic.

Risk Factors and Detection
Large dogs are particularly prone to arthritis, but any dog could potentially develop the condition, which is influenced by age, genetic factors, and wear on and trauma to the joints. Obesity also can increase your dogs chances of developing arthritis because carrying excess weight can stress the joints.

Signs of arthritis include the following:

  • Difficulty getting up
  • Difficulty walking
  • Swollen, warm joints
  • Yelping, especially during exercise
  • Hesitating or refusing to climb stairs
  • Despondency
  • Limping

Routine examinations help your veterinarian detect and treat arthritis before it becomes too painful. If your dog doesnt receive regular exams, the arthritis may already be advanced when you recognize it. If you notice signs of arthritis, see a veterinarian immediately. Your doctor will perform a complete physical examination and may use X-rays, blood tests, and joint fluid analysis to determine the cause and severity of the arthritis.

Prevention and Treatment
A good diet and plenty of exercise throughout your dogs life are excellent preventive measures for arthritis, but in some cases they arent enough. If your dog suffers from arthritis associated with old age, you can help ease his discomfort through weight reduction and controlled exercise.

Weight Reduction
Older animals tend to be less active, which can lead to weight gain. And increased body weight results in a greater chance that your dog will develop diabetes and cardiovascular, respiratory, and orthopedic diseases - including arthritis. Thats why its so important to control your older pets weight.

If your dog is overweight, ask your veterinarian to recommend a weight-reducing diet to help him reach his normal body weight and reduced-calorie food to maintain the weight loss. Keep in mind that just as with people, its safest for dogs to lose weight gradually. You can also help your dog stay slim by cutting back on the number of treats you feed him. Instead of relying on food rewards, offer pats, praise, and play.

Controlled Exercise
Dont exercise your dog until your veterinarian can control his pain. After your veterinarian gives the okay, choose exercises that maintain strength and flexibility - but arent harsh or demanding. Remember, moderation is the key. You can step up your dogs exercise routine as his condition improves.

Swimming is an excellent choice because its a low-impact, therapeutic sport. However, this activity isnt practical unless you have a pool or body of water nearby.

Pet health experts agree that short, gentle walks are the next-best form of exercise for the aging dog. For your dogs comfort and safety, choose walking routes that offer level ground and good footing, and avoid walking in cold or wet weather. Provide a padded bed and a warm, dry environment to help reduce your pets discomfort.

Medical Therapy

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, are veterinarians first choice to treat arthritis. NSAIDs cause minimal complications and side effects and block the production of prostaglandins - which cause inflammation - to help control arthritis pain. Your veterinarian might prescribe carprofen or etodolac. These drugs provide good pain relief, may slow the arthritic process, and have a low incidence of side effects.

Many NSAIDs are sold over the counter for pain control in people. Dont use them without consulting with your veterinarian first - they can be dangerous when given to dogs. Also dont give your dog more than one NSAID at a time.

Aspirin is an NSAID approved for use in people but commonly used for dogs because its widely available and inexpensive. Aspirin relieves joint inflammation and eases pain in dogs in much the same way it does in people. The downside of giving your dog aspirin is that it can cause gastric ulceration when used regularly. Again, to protect the health of your pet, check with your veterinarian before giving your dog any over-the-counter medication.

Chondroprotective Agents
These compounds help prevent further cartilage destruction and promote joint repair. Theyre most effective when used early in the course of arthritis. Some of these compounds are administered by injection and some are given orally. Your veterinarian must prescribe and administer the injectable agents - known as polysulfated glycosaminoglycans. These drugs are FDA-approved, and research shows they are safe and effective in slowing the progression of arthritis and controlling pain.

Other chondroprotective agents are sold as nutritional supplements and are given orally (glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate). Because these supplements dont need FDA approval, researchers have completed few studies to test their safety and effectiveness. But subjective evidence indicates that they help relieve the pain of arthritis, and they appear to have few side effects.

For maximum arthritis relief, chondroprotective agents can be given along with an NSAID to reduce pain and inflammation and promote healing.

Surgical Therapy
Surgery, which is used less often than other arthritis treatments, may help some pets with severe arthritis. Veterinarians perform surgery to relieve pain, improve motion, or correct deformed or unstable joints. One of the surgeries performed is joint fusion, which relieves pain and helps restore use of the limb. Other surgeries include joint replacement and ligament repair.

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