What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the joint, resulting from wear and tear and characterised by deterioration of cartilage, bone changes and inflammation of the surrounding soft tissues.
Arthritis is a well-known part of canine ageing, and incredibly common. One in five of the adult dog population in the USA currently has arthritis, and most dogs will suffer some degree of arthritis in their lifetime.
Unfortunately, arthritis is a chronic, degenerative disease, meaning that it cannot be cured and will worsen with time. Arthritis management for dogs therefore focuses on maintaining joint health as much as possible. By doing this we can promote healthy cartilage; reducing the risk of arthritis development, and slowing progression in already affected animals.
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs?
Arthritis in dogs has several symptoms that are very common, and are related to stiffness and pain in the joints.
- Reluctance to rise
- Reluctance to climb stairs or jump into the car
- Stiff after walks, or first thing in the morning
- Pain on palpation of joints
- Licking over sore joints
If you see any of these symptoms your dog might have arthritis. Your vet can perform a full health check, and may be able to confirm the presence of osteoarthritis from this alone. In some dogs an x-ray may be required for a definitive diagnosis.
Will My Dog Get Arthritis?
Any dog can get arthritis, but some dogs will be more predisposed. The three factors that impact on the likelihood of a dog developing arthritis are diet, genetics and exercise.
- Overweight dogs are much more likely to develop arthritis, due to the excessive force going down through their limbs. In these cases, weight reduction is key to arthritis management or prevention, and these joints also need to be supported by chondroprotective ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Some dogs, such as many Labradors and German Shepherds, have a genetic issue with the structure of their joints known as dysplasia. Hip and elbow dysplasia is common in larger breed dogs and results in lax and unstable joints. This instability results in abnormal forces through the joint, and will always lead to the development of arthritis.
- High level exercise, such as large amounts of running, puts pressure through joints and increases wear and tear. Sporting dogs can suffer with early onset arthritis due to microfractures and trauma to their cartilage acquired while competing.
Can I Prevent Arthritis in My Dog?
It is not possible to definitively prevent arthritis, especially in high risk dogs. However, by providing dogs with everything they need to produce healthy cartilage, it is possible to lower the risk of arthritis development.
Like us, dogs are prone to arthritis in joints that have been operated on. To reduce risk of arthritis development in these dogs, and in dogs with obesity, active lifestyle or poor genetics, giving chondroprotective ingredients lifelong is a sensible precaution.
Supplements for Canine Arthritis
Supplementation to support joint health focuses on allowing the formation of healthy cartilage. Hyaline cartilage is a specific cartilage that caps the bones in synovial joints; the very movable joints such as knees, hips and elbows. This hyaline cartilage is designed to cushion joints and have a smooth, very low friction surface; these properties allow for a wide range of motion and protects the ends of the bone from trauma.
The molecules within hyaline cartilage that give it these properties are called proteoglycans. Proteoglycans are bushy molecules that attract water, and it is the high water content in hyaline cartilage that gives it its smoothness and ability to absorb compressive force. By promoting the production of proteoglycans within cartilage we can support new hyaline cartilage formation, improving joint structure and reducing damage.
The creation of proteoglycans requires both glucosamine and chondroitin. It is very important to have both these ingredients as, without both, the full structure of a proteoglycan cannot be formed. Supplementing glucosamine and chondroitin also upregulates chondrocytes, the cells that make cartilage. In essence, the ‘machine’ to make cartilage is only turned on when it has all the required ingredients. By providing these ingredients, proteoglycan synthesis is stimulated and production of healthy cartilage increased.
Use of limbs, by taking arthritic dogs on short but frequent walks, also helps stimulate the chondrocytes to produce cartilage. Just like muscle, if cartilage is not being ‘used’, it will waste away. Exercise is also important for mental stimulation, and will therefore also help support dogs with brain function in their later years.
It has been shown that as well as being building blocks for hyaline cartilage, and increasing cartilage production, glucosamine and chondroitin also work on the joint in other ways. These active nutraceutical ingredients reduce joint inflammation and joint space narrowing, improve bone mineral density and suppress osteoarthritic pain. Part of this process is the downregulation of cartilage degrading enzymes that are produced in inflamed joints, and help perpetuate the degeneration of joint tissues.
Arthritis is a debilitating disease with high prevalence in the canine community. Use of joint supplements can help reduce the risk of developing arthritis, and slow down progression of arthritis in affected animals. Glucosamine and chondroitin are the most widely researched and trusted chondroprotective ingredients, vital to the structure of the proteoglycans that give cartilage its properties.
Starting your dog on joint support now is the best way to protect him in the future.
Vet J. 2007 Jul;174(1):54-61. Epub 2006 May 2, Randomised double-blind, positive-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. McCarthy
Is there any scientific evidence for the use of glucosamine in the management of human osteoarthritis? Yves Henrotin, Ali Mobasheri and Marc Marty Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012
J Vet Intern Med 2012;26:448–456 Systematic Review of Efficacy of Nutraceuticals to Alleviate Clinical Signs of Osteoarthritis J.-M. Vandeweerd, C. Coisnon, P. Clegg, C. Cambier, A. Pierson, F. Hontoir, C. Saegerman, P. Gustin, and S. Buczinski
Pharmaceutical and nutraceutical management of canine osteoarthritis: Present and future perspectives. Yves Henroti. The Veterinary Journal 170 (2005) 113–123
Pavelka, K., Gatterova, J., Olejarova, M., Machacek, S., Giacovelli, L.C., Rovati, L.C., 2002. Glucosamine sulphate use and delay of progression of knee osteoarthritis: a 3-year, randomized, placebocontrolled, double-blind study. Archives of Internal Medicine 162, 2113–2123.
Reginster, J.Y., Deroisy, R., Rovati, L.C., Lee, R.L., Lejeune, E., Bruyere, O., Giacovelli, G., Henrotin, Y., Dacre, J.E., Gossett, C., 2001. Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lancet 357, 251–256.
Clinicians Update, Johnston 1997. Canine Osteoarthritis, overview, therapies and nutrition.