Degenerative Joint Disease In Dogs (DJD)

Joint disease is one of the most common health complications in senior canine friends.

Though not limited to older dogs, degenerative joint disease can make a dog’s life challenging as they age.

So what is this condition, and what does diagnosis mean for your pup?

In this article we will go into the details of degenerative joint disease (arthritis) in dogs, and help you better understand how to support your pup going forward.

We will be using the terms degenerative joint disease and canine arthritis interchangeably, as these terms refer to the same condition.

Degenerative Joint Disease In Dogs

Understanding The Canine Joint

Before we discuss the details of degenerative joint disease in dogs, it’s important to understand the structure of the joint and how it all works.

Though our pups may be different from us in many ways, the proper function of their joints are just as critical to their daily life.

A canine joint is meant to attach two different bones, allowing the limbs to move with ease upon command.

The joints themselves are held together by fibrous tissue, as well as being covered in protective cartilage that surrounds the ends of the bone.

Both of these structures offer support to the joint in question, ranging from necessary joint lubrication to shock absorption with each movement.

DJD impacts the health of both the joint capsule and the surrounding cartilage, resulting in the overall decline of the joint that is affected.

When the joint has been compromised due to the deterioration of its main support, this results in a slew of painful complications to follow.

Now that you understand how important the canine joint is and each of its components, let’s really get into the details of canine arthritis.

What Is Degenerative Joint Disease In Dogs?

Now that you understand the role and structure of the canine joint, we can now begin to understand the devastating impact of degenerative joint disease in our furry friends.

Arthritis in dogs is a condition that refers to the deterioration of the tissues within a dog’s joints, making it more challenging to carry out their normal tasks.

In a healthy pup free of joint disease, the cartilage and fluid within the joint provides a cushion for the connecting bones with each step a dog takes.

As arthritis begins to deteriorate the cartilage within these joints, the cartilage will begin to wear down and appear rough.

As the cartilage within the joints breaks down, this means there is less of a cushion for the two connecting bones in question.

When the cartilage is no longer providing enough support, this causes the bones within the joint to rub together.

The healthy fluid within the joint will no longer lubricate the joint as it should, and the chronic inflammation will lead to new bone formations in the area.

This causes an already unhealthy joint to become even more stiff, causing a constant cycle of pain for the dog affected.

This is referred to as a degenerative condition due to the downfall of the joint once the cycle of inflammation begins, as it will only cause the joint to become more and more unstable as it progresses.

The joint and its tissues will continue to break down as the disease progresses, making it challenging to stop the process once it has begun.

Is Arthritis A Serious Condition In Dogs?

Arthritis or degenerative joint disease may not be a fatal condition in itself, but it should still be taken seriously.

Joint disease in itself will not take years off your dog’s life due to systemic illness like other conditions, but it can still deeply impact their quality of life.

Arthritis has the ability to make a dog’s normal activities painful, and this in turn can cause many to make a tough quality of life decision at some point. Because of this, it is a condition that should warrant attention.

What Causes Degenerative Joint Disease In Dogs?

Degenerative joint disease can occur as a result of normal wear and tear to the joints over time, but there are certain factors that are known to increase a dog’s risks.

Ranging from a dog’s weight to their lifestyle leading up to the condition, many things can influence degenerative joint disease in our canine friends.

Your Dog’s Weight

Obesity is one of the most common triggers of arthritis in dogs.

Excess weight puts additional stress on the joints over time, resulting in wear and tear that may not have been present otherwise.

Not only can obesity increase the risk of arthritis in dogs, but it can also make life much harder for current arthritis pups as well.

Your Dog’s Size

Large breed dogs are more prone to developing arthritis than other furry friends.

Many vets even suggest joint supplements for all large breed dogs from the age of 1, as it has become so common among our larger furry friends.

Your Dog’s Daily Activity

If your dog regularly participated in vigorous activity throughout their life, they may be more at risk of developing arthritis down the line.

Frequent vigorous exercise can put extra stress on the joints, leading to an increased potential for joint disease if they are not receiving proper joint support.

Other Joint Conditions

Other joint conditions such as hip dysplasia or patellar luxation can make a dog more at risk of developing arthritis later in life.

The constant inflammation and grinding of the joints can exacerbate their joint deterioration, leading to arthritis in many cases.

Your Dog’s Genetics

Genetics can play a major role in the development of arthritis in some furry friends.

While some dogs will be more at risk due to their specific breed, others will simply inherit the increased risk of the joint disease their parent’s had.

Some at risk breeds for canine arthritis include:

  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Rottweilers

Your Dog Had A Previous Injury

Inflammation can cause serious damage over time, making previous injuries an exacerbating factor of canine arthritis.

Anything ranging from soft tissue injuries to previous bone fractures can make a dog more at risk of developing joint disease down the line.

The Signs Of Degenerative Joint Disease In Dogs

Degenerative joint disease in dogs will often begin with minor symptoms, further progressing as the years go by.

Arthritis is easiest to combat when it is caught early on, making it so important to be aware of the subtle signs when they develop.

Some of the most common signs of arthritis in dogs include:

  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Slower to rise in the morning
  • Stiffness
  • Limping, minor to severe
  • Muscle loss, especially in the back end
  • Constantly licking a certain joint
  • Hesitation to jump on furniture
  • Disinterest in previous physical activities they once enjoyed
  • Crying out during certain movements and activities
  • Limping or appearing stiff after active days
  • Sensitive to touch in certain areas
  • Swollen joints
  • Grumpiness or irritability
  • Having accidents around the house
  • Yelping or barking when being picked up

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s best to reach out to your vet for further guidance.

Diagnosing Degenerative Joint Disease In Dogs

If your dog is displaying symptoms of degenerative joint disease, there are a few ways that your veterinarian can accurately diagnose the condition.

First, your vet will likely ask you questions about your dog’s daily behaviors, trying to identify any potential signs of pain.

While performing this physical exam they will likely perform a few range of motion exercises, testing your dog’s limb flexibility with each movement.

Once your vet has gathered a medical history and completed a physical exam, they can then perform a series of x-rays that search for evidence of arthritis or other joint conditions.

While the first stages of arthritis are not always as obvious on film, this can help your vet identify any arthritis changes or early signs of the condition.

Managing Joint Disease In Dogs

There is no set treatment of degenerative joint disease in dogs, but there are ways to manage the condition going forward.

Some of these options are effective in slowing the deterioration of the disease, offering dogs longevity as they age.

To help you best help your arthritic canine friend, let’s list the most effective management options below.

Joint Supplements

Nutraceutical joint supplements are supplements that promote health without the use of prescription medications.

Joint supplements are commonly used now in dogs with arthritis and other painful joint conditions, as many help to relive the chronic inflammation a dog experiences.

These supplements include Dasuquin, Cosequin, Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM, and others.

Weight Control

Helping your dog maintain a healthy weight will not only improve their overall health, but help to slow the deterioration of their joints.

Excess weight will only make life harder for an arthritic dog, making weight management an important tool in managing the condition.

NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)

NSAIDs prescribed by your veterinarian can help your dog combat painful inflammation due to their arthritis.

While each case will vary based on your dog’s overall health, these medications can be a helpful tool in getting ahead of your dog’s pain.

While most dogs cannot be on NSAIDs long term, they can be used during flare ups or other painful periods.

Pain Control

If your dog has severe arthritis that is impacting their daily life, your vet can prescribe approved pain medications that can relive their discomfort.

There are a few different options for your vet to choose from, but they will choose the best route for your pup based on their situation.

Physical Therapy

Another way to relieve painful inflammation is with the use of physical therapy.

Physical therapy can help to stimulate blood flow to weakened muscles and inflamed tissue, promoting healing when a dog sticks with it.

There are many physical therapy options available to our pup, ranging from laser therapy to hydrotherapy.

Does Arthritis Shorten A Dog’s Life?

As we mentioned above, arthritis in itself is not a fatal condition that leads to systemic illness.

However, due to the ability to cause a dog daily pain, arthritis has been the driving force behind many quality of life discussions.

So while arthritis may not shorten a dog’s life directly, it can cause a dog to become so uncomfortable that saying goodbye is the kindest option.

When you should euthanize your dog with arthritis will be a decision only you can make.

Early detection and proper management is the best way to offer your dog longevity when being diagnosed with arthritis.

Following your vet’s guidance is essential for offering your pup as much relief as possible.

Can You Prevent Arthritis In Dogs?

There is no concrete method in preventing degenerative joint disease in dogs, but you can certainly give your pup the best chance possible at a pain free future.

Some of the best ways to prevent the development of arthritis in dogs include:

  • Starting your dog on joint supplements at a young age if they are high risk
  • Keeping your dog at a healthy weight
  • Offering them a vet approved diet
  • Treating any injuries appropriately as they occur
  • Make sure your pup stays active as they age
  • If your dog is overweight, have your vet approve their weight loss plan

Though the tips above are effective in preventing joint damage in our canine friends, we always suggest speaking with your vet for further joint health guidance.

Final Thoughts

Degenerative joint disease is a painful condition that can deeply impact a dog’s life.

Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can offer your pup the support they need as they age.

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