What Is Arthritis?
In this discussion, we are talking about Osteoarthritis (OA), otherwise known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). It is completely different from septic arthritis (caused by infection), or immune-mediated arthritis (caused by a malfunction of the immune system, similar to rheumatoid arthritis in people).
OA is chronic and progressive inflammation of a joint, leading to the loss of cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule, and bumpy abnormal new bone formation (osteophytes), causing chronic pain and eventual limb dysfunction or disuse.
Causes of Arthritis in Dogs and Cats
Congenital deformities such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas
Body conformation due to people breeding animals without regard to their health, such as any dog with short crooked legs (chondrodysplasia) as with basset hounds, bulldogs, dachshunds, munchkin cats, or with sloped hips like German shepherds.
Being over weight
Trauma such as broken bones, torn ligaments, infection of a joint
Routine over-exercise or routine intense exercise
NOTE: OLD AGE IS NOT A CAUSE OF ARTHRITIS Most pets who have osteoarthritis were born with the joint problems that lead to osteoarthritis due to their breed standard or due to poor breeding, even though they are not usually diagnosed until they are older.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
Pre-clinical Stage: The dog has a congenital condition such as luxating patellas, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplaisa, or chondrodysplasia that lead to OA. Other common risk factors are being over weight, routinely performing intense exercise, joint trauma. However there are no symptoms yet.
Mild Clinical Signs:
Mild soreness or stiffness after heavy exercise
Subtle changes in joint loading
Subtle changes in stance at standstill
Moderate Clinical Signs:
Obvious changes in limb loading
Obvious changes in stance at standstill, body weight distribution changes
Limping even without exercise
Difficulty in getting up
Decreased range of motion of affected joint
Crepitus of the joint (I can feel the osteophytes when flexing or extending the joint)
Possible aggression due to pain
Decreased activity- may not play as long as before
Severe Clinical Signs:
Reluctance, extreme difficulty, or downright refusal to go up or down stairs, jump onto furniture or into a vehicle
Limited activity- the dog won't do anything unless encouraged
Aggression due to pain
Severe weight shifting
Extreme difficulty in getting up from a sitting or laying position
Healthy dog with normal standing posture. Weight is properly distributed, head held high, muscles in good condition.