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Dog Joint Health: Pain, Osteoarthritis, and Other Joint Problems

WebMD veterinary expert answers commonly asked questions about joint problems in dogs.


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.


Q: As a researcher, what advancements do you see coming that will help our dogs recover faster or heal more completely?

A: Rehab is really taking off, and there are a lot of studies under way to determine the best protocols for different problems.

The food companies are doing a lot of research on potential additives that can help with both inflammation and degradation or degeneration of joints.

On the surgical side, we’re seeing a lot more minimally invasive procedures, such as the arthroscopic repairs and treatments and biological treatments, meaning different types of injections or replacements of tissues. We can grow a new joint replacement through tissue engineering now. Or we can take cartilage grafts from healthy cartilage, either from the same dog or from an organ donor dog.


Q: Should I limit my dog’s activity if he has joint problems?

A: I would limit it until you get a good diagnosis and a plan with your veterinarian. If there’s a problem that causes instability, you can do a lot more harm to the joints. But in the long run, we want to get activity back. So we have to figure out if we need surgery to do that or if it can be done with non-surgical methods.


Q: What can I do to help prevent joint injuries in my dog?

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