Dr. Marty Becker DVM
"Is your dog getting up a little more slowly than he used to? Does a rousing game of fetch leave him limping later? Has he opted out of climbing stairs?
If so, you may be assuming that your dog is just “old” and you can’t do anything to help him. This may be true, but another possibility might be arthritis — and recognizing it is the first step to getting him back to normal function.
How do you know if your dog might be suffering from arthritis pain? Here are five signs to look for.
The ABC's (and D and E) of Arthritis Symptoms
A - Ain’t doing right: Some times in your dog’s medical records you may see the notation “ADR.” That stands for “ain’t doing right,” and it's veterinarian shorthand for a pet who just isn't acting like himself. Yes, it’s vague, but it’s based on sound observation by the pet's owner. Some people would barely notice a gaping wound on their own leg if it weren’t pointed out to them but will detect very small changes in their pets' health and behavior. They may not know what to make of those changes, but they know they need to get to the veterinarian because something is clearly wrong. That observation — that a pet "ain't doing right" — is a good place to start when you're talking about arthritis.
B - Behavior changes: Shifts in behavior are often the first clue that something — anything — is wrong with your dog. When you're talking about arthritis pain, decreased appetite is one of the most common signs. Dogs don't feel like eating when they're hurting. But, really, any behavior that’s out of character for your dog may be a sign of pain, including snapping, “forgetting” house-training or appearing agitated. Sometimes these are obvious signs — it's hard to miss a pile in the living room or ignore a sweet dog who suddenly nips at your hand — but often these changes fall into that whole “ain’t doing right” area. Something’s “off” with your dog, but you can’t say exactly what it is. That's how you know it's time to see your vet.
C - Can’t get comfortable: Think about all the strange positions you get into when you’re in an airline seat, just trying to get comfortable. Of course, no amount of writhing around does the job. Similarly, a dog struggling to relieve his arthritis pain may contort himself into some 747-worthy positions, none of which will help. When your dog starts trying out these new positions, it’s another sign that he’s trying to compensate for some discomfort. After all, dogs don't just “try something new” for the heck of it. There’s a reason for change, and it’s often pain.
D - Difficulty moving well: A dog who’s limping, trembling, moving slowly or struggling to get up after sleeping — or who is just plain “stiff” until he gets moving — is a likely candidate for a diagnosis of arthritis. While being overweight can cause some difficulty in moving — and more than half of all dogs are overweight, after all — your dog's difficulty moving is likely to be a combination of weight and arthritis. Getting the extra weight off is one of the best ways to help him cope with arthritis and to alleviate his pain. Fortunately, your veterinarian can help with that too.
E - Exclamation of pain: If your dog is suddenly whining or crying when he moves, he’s letting you — and the world — know that he's in pain. He may also cry out when you’re petting him. Alternately, he may bark less, just because barking is too much trouble. No matter how, or how much, he's vocalizing, take note of anything out of the ordinary. This is a good sign that he needs some help.
Your Veterinarian Can Help
Although many medical conditions can cause these (and other) signs of pain, any or all of these signs can mean that your dog is suffering from arthritis. And while growing older is inevitable, living in pain is often preventable.
Don’t wait another minute: Schedule a check-in with your veterinarian and tell her exactly what you're seeing in your dog's behavior. There’s a world of good options, including pain medications and nutritional supplements, that could very likely have your dog feeling better — and moving more comfortably — again soon."
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