Hikes, bike rides, jogs, and all kinds of other exercises are made worlds better when you have your furry best friend with you. But as your puppy becomes an adult and eventually a senior, she's likely to slow down a little. Eventually, you might notice that she's having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and since dogs don't have to go to work or need coffee to wake up, this is a big sign that your pooch isn't feeling right.
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Arthritis in dogs
If you've been asking yourself "why my dog is having trouble standing and walking," and notice that the problem is particularly bad when he tries to get up from his bed in the morning, the answer is that he most likely has arthritis.
According to Puppy Leaks, 80 percent of dogs 8 years and older suffer from arthritis, but while most dogs who have the condition are older, 20 percent of all adult pups over 1 year old have the disease. Arthritis literally means "pain in joint," and that's an entirely accurate description. This degenerative disease causes inflammation in the joints that can result in pain, loss of mobility, and a lowered quality of life according to Whole Dog Journal.
While general arthritis (meaning some level of joint swelling) is the most common form of the disease, there are some specific types of arthritis as well, including rheumatoid arthritis, spondylitis, septic arthritis, spinal stenosis, and spondylosis. When general arthritis is allowed to progress, it can also result in osteoarthritis, according to Activphy, which causes damage to the cartilage lining the joint surface, compromising the normal range of motion. Due to the weight placed on their joints, large and overweight dogs tend to suffer more from arthritis and start displaying symptoms earlier.
Early signs of arthritis in dogs may include:
- changes in gait
- difficulty lying down or sitting comfortably in certain positions
- favoring certain legs or joints
- licking legs or paws
- loss of flexibility
- pain after exercise
- problems climbing steps
- reluctance to jump
- slowing down on walks
- stiffness and slowness while getting up
- visually swollen joints
Notice arthritis symptoms?
If your dog won't stand up without first wincing or whimpering in pain, you know there's a problem. If you notice any of the arthritis symptoms above, it's important to take your dog to the vet soon. While arthritis is a common problem, it is very painful and becomes worse the longer it is left untreated. By taking your dog to the vet, you may be able to diagnose the problem and begin treating it immediately, reducing the damage to her joints.
On top of that, not all cases of joint stiffness, difficulty getting out of bed, and other mobility problems are related to arthritis. As Preventive Vet explains, if your dog can't stand up or walk, these problems can also be caused by:
- a torn ligament
- bone cancer
- degeneration of the nerves
- heart disease
- inflammation of or a mass associated with an abdominal organ
- lost muscle mass
- muscle weakness
- respiratory conditions
- or even overgrown nails!
This is why it is so important to take your dog to the vet, being sure to tell him not only that "my dog has a hard time standing and walking," but any other symptoms you may have noticed, such as a reduced appetite, limping, fatigue, etc. Your veterinarian may do a number of tests to determine the cause of the problem, particularly if your pup doesn't display many of the more typical arthritis symptoms.
These tests may include x-rays, blood work, physical manipulation of the joints, biopsies, CT-scans, or more. In many cases, an early diagnosis of these conditions, just like arthritis, may allow for treatment options that can cure the problem or at least prevent it from getting any worse.
Helping an arthritic dog
If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, your veterinarian will likely offer some suggestions and perhaps prescribe some medications to help your pup, but there's more you can do to help keep your dog comfortable. If your dog is overweight, use diet and light exercise to help him shed a few pounds, which will take pressure off his joints Even if your dog isn't overweight, keep up his regular exercise, subbing out long walks for multiple short. Whatever your exercise routine, remember that if your dog ever seems to be in pain while exercising, stop the activity.
You may also look into non-impact physical therapy exercises for dogs such as water treadmills. Similarly, laser therapy, acupuncture and massage may help improve your pup's mobility and reduce pain. In some cases, slings, rear-end harnesses, wheelchairs, and carts can be useful for helping your dog feel active when his body isn't up to the challenge. Finally, be sure to keep your dog's nails well-trimmed as nails that have become overgrown can hurt to walk on or even force the dog to walk differently, which can further hurt arthritic joints.
Look up a list of anti-inflammatory foods and offer them to your dog, making sure to avoid giving him anything that can be potentially toxic such as garlic. Some healthy foods for arthritis include alfalfa, papaya, celery, and ginger. Feed your dog with raised food bowls which can reduce strain on his neck while eating (do not offer raised food bowls to dogs at risk for bloat as they may swallow too much air as they eat). Consider giving your pooch joint-supporting supplements such as glucosamine, but always consult your vet first, especially if the dog is on medication already.
Changes around the house
You can also make changes in your home to improve mobility and reduce pain in your dog. If you have hardwood floors, lay down rugs on a non-stick rug pad so your dog doesn't slip on the floor and put extra stress on her body. If you have a short set of stairs (three or less) in your home or if your dog gets on the couch or in bed with you, put down a ramp to help her knees — and either lift her in and out of the car or offer her a ramp.
Offer your dog a soft, supportive bed, such as a memory foam one, to relieve pressure on her joints while she sleeps. Sometimes cold weather can make joints worse, so leave your heater on in winter or provide your dog a heated bed or a warm blanket.
Dog won't stand up
If there's ever a point where your dog simply will not stand up no matter how you try to entice him, do not force him up. Instead, carry him to the car and take him to the vet immediately. If you cannot carry your dog, you may be able to find a vet that does house calls or make a stretcher with a blanket that can be carried by multiple people. When a dog absolutely cannot stand up, it could mean that his arthritis has gotten so severe that he may need to be euthanized, but it could also be a sign of a number of serious conditions, which Banfield Pet Hospital says could include:
- fractures or other injuries to the head, back, or neck
- heart disease
- illness or failure of internal organs
- invertebral disk disease, which may result in paralysis and occurs when the disks between the bones of the vertebra push against the spinal cord
- internal bleeding
- low blood sugar, which may be caused by diabetes
- severe hip dysplasia
- severe infection
- Banfield: My Cat Or Dog Can’t Stand Up, What Should I Do?
- Puppy Leaks: I Missed the Early Signs of Arthritis In My Dog
- Whole Dog Journal: Natural Dog Arthritis Treatments
- ActivPhy: Top Clinical Signs Your Dog is Suffering From Arthritis Pain
- Preventive Vet: How to Help An Older Dog with Arthritis and Other Mobility Problems