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For agility dogs, arthritis can be a real problem. The stresses and strains placed on the joints by dogs hurtling at speed, twisting or turning, can lead to wear and tear on the joint cartilage. Psychological make up can have an influence, too. Their very nature means that Spaniels and Border Collies, for instance, have only two speeds: very fast and stop –  Prevention and early detection with treatment are key if you want to keep your dogs flexible and active for an extended period of time.

Nearly 1 in 5 dogs suffer from arthritis in this country, but it is a condition that still goes unrecognised. Most dogs suffer from ‘osteoarthritis'. This is a condition that mainly affects dogs secondary to some sort of traumatic injury, or wear and tear, particularly around a badly formed or unstable joint. The condition is seen more in old dogs but some dogs have badly formed hips or elbows, and this can cause them to develop arthritis relatively early on in their lives.

Many owners expect their dog to ‘slow down' as he gets older. One of the signs that dogs have arthritis is that they seem slower and less mobile. In particular, dogs may have difficulty getting up after lying down for a period of time. Once they are up on their feet though, the joints may seem to ease and the pet will gradually become more mobile. Old dogs that spend longer in bed are often assumed to be lazy, or enjoying a bit of relaxation in their golden years. Yet all too often the lack of movement is due to pain.

Other signs of pain include being quieter than usual and wanting to hide away. Dogs may seem less keen to interact with their owners, or fail to show any interest in what is going on around them.

Arthritis is also known to 'wax and wane'- meaning it sometimes seems much worse than at other times. Although a dog may show all the signs, he or she may go for weeks without being too stiff or sore. Sometimes this makes owners think they were mistaken about the signs, or to put them down to an injury of some kind.

Depending on the type of terrain your dog normally exercises on, the joints will be placed under varying degrees of strain. Rough uneven ground, steep inclines and lots of barriers to jump over, all place strain on the main weight bearing joints that tend to get affected by arthritis. At home the dog's environment can also make a difference. Elbows and stifles have little soft tissue padding and sleeping on a cold or damp floor is definitely not going to be conducive to joint health.

Adjust feeding so that dogs are kept in optimum body condition all year long, getting flabby out of season, does no one any favours. Also build up training routines prior to gearing up for working: You would not expect a 100 metre sprinter to perform at his best if all he had done for the last six months was to amble to the chip shop!

dog arthritis canine arthritis
Dog Arthritis

Canine Arthritis (aka Canine Osteoarthritis) is a degenerative joint disease which occurs as a result of wear and tear on a joint and occurs as the dog advances in age.

It is characterised by the loss of the smooth cartilage that covers and protects the end of the bones in a movable (synovial) joint. The cartilage has no nerves so when it touches the cartilage of another bone, there is no pain. When the cartilage wears away, the bone is exposed. The bone does have nerves so when the two bones in a joint touch, it results in pain and inflammation.

Early Detection
It may seem tempting if you suspect arthritis, to bury your head in the sand and take no action at all. You may feel that treatment will confer no real benefit, or you might believe that your dog will naturally go into a decline over a long period of time, regardless of what action you take.

It's certainly true that arthritis is a life-long condition once it is present. When damage to the cartilage is triggered, it is essentially an ongoing process, governed by enzymes. The cartilage continues to degrade, an inflammatory reaction is set up and even the bone itself can get worn in some areas, and accumulate in other sites, until the joint starts to look deformed.

Most treatments aim to reduce the pain and inflammation in an arthritic joint. That alone makes the dog feel better: many regain their vitality and want to exercise again. As long as the prescribing veterinary surgeon agrees that the duration, type and intensity is suitable for the stage of arthritis the dog is suffering from then there is no reason why dogs cannot resume a normal exercise programme. There is always a possibility that the dog could suffer from a flare-up and at those times, exercise may have to be restricted, but with the right treatment protocol, those periods of flare-up can be managed.

One very interesting recent development is the finding that a palatable tablet treatment could slow the rate of deterioration in the damaged cartilage. That suggests that for the first time, treatment is not just having a palliative effect, but is actually treating the disease itself. So, getting the right treatment for your dog, could well extend the number of ‘working years' they could enjoy. The earlier treatment starts, the earlier it can start to slow cartilage deterioration.

There are more ways to help dogs with arthritis. Nutritional supplements, such as Nutradyl®, can promote joint health. These tablets contain extracts of Green Lipped Mussel, a shellfish that contains the building blocks for joint cartilage, which can be given alongside arthritis treatments, or even alone.

So whether your dog is just slowing up, becoming more of a couch potato or just seems to be a lazybones, have him checked out. Arthritis is painful and progressive. Loss of mobility will surely follow without treatment. For those dogs who receive treatment, the outlook is rosy. Palatable tablets are easy to give, day after day and dogs that get treatment early will do best in the long term. So it really is worth having your dogs checked out.

About the author...
Susan McKay BVMS, MRCVS, MBA graduated from Edinburgh's Royal Dick Vet School in 1988 and spent many years in practice. In 1996 she began working for a petfood company where she was involved with new product development, quality assurance and literature production.

For two years she ran a pet care line, handling 75,000 pet owner queries a year, eventually winning the Daily Telegraph Award for Customer Service. In 2002 she set up her own consultancy, working with many pet based companies and writing for vets, breeders and pet owners.

Susan is about to launch a little website called Wild About Pets which will stock a small range of good products for pets and have lots of information on it.

First publisher 19/04/07


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