Q & A: Canine osteoarthritis

Q: My dog has just been diagnosed with arthritis. How can I make life more comfortable for him?

A: Canine osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that can affect just one or all joints in the body. These dogs are usually stiff and can be in a lot of pain and their mobility can be severely influenced.

Most of the patients who present at a veterinarian’s office with clinical signs of arthritis are obese, mostly due to being inactive and incorrect diets. It is important to make sure your dog maintains a healthy weight, as obesity increases the stress on the joints and can cause even more discomfort as well as other health concerns.

It is important to maintain an active lifestyle, even though he will be less inclined to go on walks. Once his pain can be effectively controlled, short leash walks, physiotherapy and swimming is essential to maintain his muscle strength and prevent loss of muscle mass.

The muscles surrounding the joints support them and therefore they must be kept strong. Exercising your dog is also very good for his mental health.

Invest in a good dog bed, especially in winter when his joints will be more painful. Make sure it is not too soft, which will make it difficult for him to get up. Make sure it is big enough for him to stretch out.

Rubber flooring can also help to prevent the bed from sliding and prevent him from slipping and hurting himself when getting in and out of the bed.

Ramps can also help to prevent him from trying to jump on your bed or on couches and hurting himself.

Keep your dog’s nails short. Remember that because he is not as active anymore, his nails can grow too long and cause pain and discomfort.

Assist your dog, especially when walking is difficult. There is a wide range of harnesses available on the market that can help support him without causing discomfort.

Your vet will assist you with medications to support the joints and prevent them from being painful. However, regular vet visits are very important to ensure your dog is kept as comfortable as possible.

Remember that the most important thing to remember as a pet owner is that you are doing everything possible to give your dog the best quality of life. Should the time come that all options of increasing your dog’s quality of life have been exhausted, you and your vet will discuss humane euthanasia to prevent suffering.

As difficult as this decision is, you will be doing the right thing if it is out of love for your beloved companion.

Dr Letitia Swartz, veterinarian

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