If your once active dog seems reluctant to run or play, is having difficulty getting up, or is limping or showing signs of pain, she may be suffering from osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD). Other signs of a developing mobility problem can include hesitance when jumping or climbing stairs, loss of appetite, and irritability.
Many pet guardians, especially those with middle-aged or older dogs, tend to dismiss such symptoms as just a natural part of the aging process. But a pet who is having difficulty getting around should be examined by a veterinarian. It could be arthritis, or some other problem, but in any case, a dog’s declining mobility needs attention.
One in Five Dogs Will Develop Arthritis
Sadly, 20 percent of dogs over a year of age, or 1 in 5 canine companions, will develop degenerative joint disease.1 And certain large breeds — including Golden and Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Newfoundlands and St. Bernards — have a 70 to 80 percent chance of developing the disease.2 That’s 4 out of every 5 dogs of those breeds.
Chronic diseases that affect a dog’s mobility, including arthritis, result in a 20 percent reduction in lifespan.3 For example, if the average Lab’s lifespan is 11 years, the presence of arthritis means he may only live to be 9.
The majority of canine osteoarthritis cases are the result of development conditions (e.g., hip or elbow dysplasia, shoulder osteochondrosis) and acquired conditions (e.g., cranial cruciate rupture, articular fractures).4
In my experience, arthritis in dogs is also often caused by high-calorie, carbohydrate-dense diets that cause large breed puppies to grow too big, too fast, as well as obesity coupled with lack of exercise in adult dogs.
If your dog is genetically predisposed to arthritis or has been diagnosed with hip or elbow dysplasia, there’s not much you can do in the way of preventing joint degeneration. However, there are lots of things you can do to effectively slow down and manage the disease so that your pet remains mobile and pain-free for as long as possible.
Preventing Injury or Trauma That Can Lead to Arthritis
Many cases of degenerative joint disease in middle-aged or older dogs develop as the result of an earlier (sometimes years earlier), often seemingly minor injury or trauma. For example, most puppies are clumsy, prone to falling down stairs and jumping from high surfaces, which can set the stage for future arthritis.
That’s why I recommend trying your best to get your dog through the awkward puppy stage with minimal stumbles, tumbles, and falls. Cover slick floors with runners or area rugs. In my experience, puppies who slip, trip, and fall regularly are much more inclined to develop bone growth problems, which lead to joint problems.
Another type of injury I see frequently in dogs is cervical damage from leaping or jerking against a leash attached to a collar. A pet owner or dog trainer who jerks a dog’s neck when he’s leashed can also cause this type of injury. Yanking a dog by a leash attached to a collar is absolutely the wrong thing to do, because it very often results in cervical trauma, which then results in joint damage. I recommend harnesses rather than collars for leash attachment for this very reason.