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Causes of Osteoarthritis in Dogs


Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
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Many dogs develop some form of joint disease during their lives. It can be mild, even unnoticeable to the pet owner, or it can be debilitating, severely affecting the pet's quality of life, or even causing complete lameness. The majority of cases fall somewhere in between.

While some dogs may develop joint disease in the first half of their lives, signs usually do not appear until the latter half of life, which varies depending on your pet's breed. Dogs are more likely than cats to show signs of osteoarthritis. Signs may also be more noticeable in larger breed dogs as compared to smaller breeds.

The most common signs of joint disease in dogs include stiffness, limping, or favoring a limb - particularly after sleep or resting, inability to rise, reluctance to jump or even climb stairs, and noticeable pain.

Causes of Osteoarthritis and Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) in dogs
There are many diseases that affect the joints of dogs. So many, in fact, that there are 8 major classifications. Degenerative joint disease occurs as a result of:

What is a joint?
The area or junction where two bones meet on an animal’s body is referred to as a joint. The areas of the bones that come into contact with each other are covered with an incredibly smooth surface of cartilage. This allows the bones to move back and forth against each other without pain or discomfort. The area is enclosed in a joint capsule that contains joint fluid that further lubricates the action of the bones as they move back and forth. If the joint becomes inflamed, injured, diseased, or is the result of abnormal aging processes, the surfaces within the joint and the surrounding bone may become deformed. The smooth interaction between the opposing bones is lost and this usually leads to a painful condition we refer to as arthritis.
  1. Degenerative disorders, e.g., luxating patella, elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia
  2. Autoimmune diseases, e.g., systemic lupus erythematosis
  3. Metabolic disorders, e.g., panosteitis, hyperparathyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism
  4. Neoplasia (cancer)
  5. Nutritional disorders, e.g., secondary hyperparathyroidism, hypervitaminosis A, hypovitaminosis D
  6. Inflammatory or infectious causes, e.g., osteomyelitis, discospondylitis
  7. Toxins, e.g., lead poisoning
  8. Trauma, e.g., fractures, cranial cruciate ligament rupture

Management and Medical Treatment of Dog Osteoarthritis

Medical treatment of hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) has greatly improved in the last several years thanks to the introduction and approval of several new drugs to help control pain and inflammation in the joints. Because hip dysplasia (and other types of dysplasias) are not only inherited conditions, but are also influenced by other factors, there are no products on the market that prevent their development.

Diagnosis of hip dysplasia in dogs that are showing clinical signs of arthritis and pain is usually made through the combination of a physical exam and radiographs (x-rays). If a dog is showing outward signs of arthritis, there are usually easily recognized changes in the joint that can be seen on radiographs. In addition, the veterinarian may even be able to feel looseness (laxity) in the joint or may be able to elicit pain through extension and flexion of the affected joint. Through proper diet, exercise, anti-inflammatories, and pain relief, you may be able to slow down the progression of degenerative joint disease, but the looseness in the joint or bony changes will not change significantly.

Medical management is indicated for both young dogs with clinical signs and for older dogs with chronic osteoarthritis. Because of the high cost involved with many surgeries, medical management is many times the only realistic option for many pet owners. However, medical management is multifaceted. Discuss your options with your veterinarian.

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