This September, Canine Arthritis Awareness Month will again be raising the profile of this debilitating disease.
This year participating vets are supporting the campaign even more intensively by offering free arthritis checks. Dog owners can also benefit from a £5 voucher off the cost of treatment if their dog receives a new diagnosis of arthritis, so it really is worth having your pets or working dogs checked out.
For the certain breeds, arthritis can be a real problem, partly because of a genetic predisposition to certain bone problems, which can mean arthritis develops relatively early on in life. Of course, the stresses and strains placed on the joints by active dogs exercising intensively 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 – not really ideal if they wish to avoid damaging their joints.
If dogs are kennelled outdoors, then lying on cold surfaces with little protection for the joints can also add to the problem. Similarly slippery floors, jostling by other dogs and any repetitive activities, such as jumping up whenever anyone approaches, or constant circling if the dog is bored, can contribute to the development of early arthritis.
Prevention and early detection with treatment are key if dog owners want to keep their animals flexible, active and mobile for an extended period of time.
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. Providing bedding isn’t being ‘soft’, there is a practical point to it too. Admittedly, some kennelled dogs rejoice in removing their bedding and tearing it up in the outside run. If that’s the case and perseverance doesn’t work, at least provide a raised platform, coated with a layer of rubber matting that keeps the dog out of draughts and provides a little padding.
‘Environmental enrichment’ may sound like the stuff a new-age therapist could advocate but making your dog’s immediate surroundings more interesting, and providing time occupying activities can be useful. Dogs that constantly circle or indulge in other repetitive activities are showing their mental distress and physical distress in the form of arthritis can follow. Kongs or Cubes filled with dry food, sand pits to dig in and appropriate chew toys to play with are a good idea (just be careful to inspect the chew toys regularly and replace them before they become worn).
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 a planned intensive period of exercise. 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!
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 development in recent months 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 ‘active years’ they could enjoy – and that’s definitely appealing. The earlier treatment starts, the earlier it can start to slow cartilage deterioration.
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’s rosy – palatable tablets are easy to give, day after day and dogs that get treatment early will do best in the long term.
Visit www.dogarthritischeck.com for more information, or ask your vet if they are participating in Canine Arthritis Awareness Month.