This blog details the different types of arthritis, how osteoarthritis progresses in dogs, what causes it and how massage can help a dog suffering from it. I finish by giving you ideas to help you manage the condition at home.
The main types of arthritis
There are two types of arthritis and it's important to know which one your dog has.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory disease, originating in the immune system, and is relatively rare in dogs. If your dog has Rheumatoid Arthritis they should not receive massage.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease where cartilage within the joint breaks down. Cartilage should act as a cushion, protecting the ends of the bones and preventing bone on bone contact. When cartilage breaks down, the bones make direct contact, causing friction and risking bone fragmentation. The joint becomes inflamed and this causes pain.
Massage can be really beneficial for dogs suffering from osteoarthritis and naturally complements veterinary interventions such as prescribed anti-inflammatory and pain medications.
In many cases, massage can alleviate symptoms sufficiently to reduce the maintenance dose of drugs your vet prescribes. Whilst massage cannot cure Arthritis it can make your dogs life easier and happier!
Progression of osteoarthritis
As changes in the joint are permanent the loss of cartilage means the joint remains inflamed (to a greater or lesser extent) and this makes the joint harder to move. The musculature surrounding the joint 'splints' it to protect it from further damage. This causes the joint to become even more restricted. Further joint changes then occur with bony spurs growing around the damaged bone ends.
In addition, the body tries to manage with less cushioning by reducing friction in the joint. This is done by producing more synovial fluid, but this increases inflammation and adds pressure to the ligaments (tissue that holds bones together) and the joint itself.
Your dog will by now be moving with significant stiffness and probably have an intermittent or permanent limp.
The limp is a result of an automatic response to reduce the pressure on the damaged joint. The body shifts weight onto the other limbs. This 'compensation' causes other areas of the body to carry more weight, resulting in muscle tightness and increasing the likelihood of damage to previously healthy joints.
What causes Osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is often considered an age related disease, however it will appear in dogs with other joint issues such as dysplasia, cruciate injuries and even those that have lost dew claws. It can also be caused by:
Impacts such as jumping from heights
Landing awkwardly or with repetition (e.g. from vehicles or over obstacles)
Trauma (impact caused by injury)
Orthopaedic (joint) Surgery
Poor conformation - i.e. poor breeding
Diabetes and Cushing's can affect the health of cartilage.
High impact sports like Flyball & Agility increase the risk of joint injury and arthritis
Canine massage can help by:
Improving mobility overall and in the affected joints
Reducing painful inflammation
Reducing tension in splinting and compensating muscles
Supporting better weight bearing
Improving balance and coordination
Reducing overall stiffness
Improving mood and emotional well-being
Supporting greater activity levels.
All the above results in an overall reduction in pain.
Things you can do to help your arthritic dog
Reduce the time your dog spends on slippery floors and use non-slip mats where necessary
Keep your dog warm by moving beds out of draughts and using coats
Manage weight and add supplements which include Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Hyaluronic Acid to support the lubrication of the joints
Raise food and drinking bowls
Manage access to stairs and use ramps where possible
Make sure the bed they use allows them to lie flat and provides support whilst being stable and easy to get in and out of
Reduce walking duration but look to increase the number of walks a day
Introduce enrichment activities into their lives
Don't be afraid of using pain relief when it is required