Dog Joint Health: Pain, Osteoarthritis, and Other Joint Problems
WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about joint problems in dogs.
Q: It seems more dogs now are having treatments for joint problems. Are there more problems, or are we simply treating them more often?
A: We have improved diagnostics and improved health care. People pay more attention to their dogs and seek care earlier and more often. And a portion of it is a breeding issue. Breeders are breeding for the traits they want. But that can breed in other traits that aren’t so desirable, such as the orthopedic problems.
Q: What are the common treatments for osteoarthritis or joint problems?
A: It varies. We typically divide it into surgical and non-operative treatments. Surgical treatments can range from arthroscopic cleaning of a joint all the way up to total joint replacement.
On the non-surgical side, we look at several things. First and foremost, and the one that has the most effect on the non-surgical side, is weight management and body condition. We’re trying to get the dogs to an ideal weight so we decrease the stresses on the joints. We also actually decrease the inflammation because fat is a source of inflammation in the joints.
With body condition, we’re trying to get the dogs’ strength built up. That’s because the muscle mass and muscle function will help protect the joints and help the overall function as well.
Then there are various types of medications, foods, and food additives. For drugs, there are anti-inflammatories, analgesics, and pain relievers.
In foods, we now have companies making quality foods that are formulated for joint health. They already have some of the additives in there, like fish oils, which help decrease inflammation, and glucosamine/chondroitin.
Q: Is surgery always required, or are there other ways to treat joint injuries?
A: Physical therapy -- professional, scientifically based programs with a rehabilitationist -- is really exploding with dogs. Most academic centers and a lot of your big private practices will have certified rehabilitationists in their practices now. The therapy can include underwater treadmills, ultrasound therapy, and electric stimulation. All the stuff we think about with human PT, they’re applying to horses and dogs as well.