As our working dogs age, arthritis can become a big issue. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s “Dog Watch” reported on arthritis in Dogs recently. They tell us that just as millions of American people are dealing with arthritis, so are American dogs, with one-fifth of the 55 million dogs in the US affected by this disease.

What causes arthritis in dogs? Most dogs have osteoarthritis, and it can be caused by an inherited defect or traumatic injury to a joint. A common inherited malformation of a joint is hip dysplasia, where the ball and socket don’t fit together properly. Canine osteoarthritis can be in the stifles, shoulders, elbows and hips but even the joints in the spine can be affected.

It’s important to recognize arthritis as early as possible Dr. Marty Becker recently discussed this topic on ABC News.

How can you tell your dog might have arthritis? Look for stiffness, an altered gait, or a reduction in your dog’s activity. If your dog’s arthritis is more advanced, he or she may limp and if you try to manipulate the joint, it will have a restricted range of motion and might be painful for the dog. Older dogs are at more risk. Yet at whatever age, your dog might compensate for the onset of their arthritis, so it might be difficult to notice.

What can you do to help prevent arthritis? Obesity is a big risk factor. Experts agree that carrying extra weight puts more stress on the cartilage. Risk is not necessarily higher for particular breeds, but heavier breeds have a greater chance than miniature breeds.

How can you treat your dog’s arthritis? First you need to have a diagnosis to rule out other conditions. This might include a physical exam and various kinds of tests. The condition is not curable, but you can treat it with drugs, nutraceuticals and surgery. Physical therapy, massage, heat and acupuncture have also been found to be helpful. The goal of treatment is generally to reduce the pain associated with the disease.

Dr. Marty Becker also has a recent article on the VetStreet website about managing arthritis.

Arthritis in dogs is common. But by doing what you can to prevent the disease’s onset, being aware of the signs, getting a diagnosis as soon as possible, and working with your veterinarian to decide on appropriate treatment, you can help your dog have the best quality of life possible.