As pet parents, we often think of arthritis as something that only happens to senior dogs — but this isn’t always the case.
“Arthritis most often affects mid to old-aged dogs; however, it can affect dogs at any age,” according to Dr. Jamie Richardson, DVM, Medical Chief of Staff for Small Door Veterinary. “It’s difficult to put a specific figure on its frequency in young dogs — particularly as the definition of ‘young’ can vary depending on the size/breed of a dog — however, in my personal experience, I’d say that less than 10 percent of the cases of arthritis I see are in younger dogs.”
In contrast, one out of every five dogs over the age of seven suffers from arthritis.
Because it’s not as common, owners often miss the signs that their dogs are in pain and the condition can go untreated for much longer.
What Causes Arthritis in Young Dogs?
In older dogs, arthritis — also known as osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) — is often a result of age-associated wear and tear. As dogs get older, the cartilage that protects joints can wear out, causing the bones to make contact with each other. This eventually leads to inflammation, bony growths, and pain.
In younger dogs, arthritis is more typically caused by orthopedic diseases or injuries, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patella, or a cranial cruciate ligament rupture.
“Orthopedic diseases are often hereditary, so they are typically seen more often in purebred dogs, and larger breeds are also more predisposed to them,” according to Richardson. “Most of the cases of arthritis I’ve seen in very young dogs have been in breeds such as German Shepherds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers who had congenital hip dysplasia.”
In smaller dogs, Richardson points out that arthritis is more commonly related to orthopedic issues such as medial patellar luxation, or popping out of the kneecap. “These types of orthopedic issues result in very rapidly forming arthritis, which causes a great deal of pain and very quickly becomes debilitating for the dog,” he explains.
With orthopedic diseases and injuries, the joints will likely rub together more, and so the joint suffers from more wear and tear than a healthy joint that is just simply aging. This leads to arthritis developing at a much faster rate – hence why we see it in younger dogs, according to Richardson. “Other forms of arthritis may also be caused by infectious diseases such as Lyme disease; these may occur at any age, including in young dogs,” she adds.
Do Young Dogs with Arthritis Have the Same Symptoms as Older Dogs?
Arthritis can be a debilitating condition at any age, but the symptoms can vary depending on the joint affected and the degree of degeneration, according to Richardson. In young dogs, decreased activity or a reluctance to play or exercise will likely be more obvious than in an older dog that might naturally be less active.
Richardson recommends looking out for your dog holding one or more legs up, limping and stiffness, and a reluctance to climb stairs or to jump on the couch as your pup might have done regularly in the past. “You might also notice signs of pain, such as whimpering, or behavioral changes, including aggression,” Richardson adds.
My Young Dog Has Arthritis, What Now?
The sooner you notice the problem and look for help, the better the outcome will be for your pooch. “It’s very important to manage arthritis as early as possible, to minimize pain, slow the progression of the disease, and maximize your dog’s quality of life for their remaining years,” Richardson says.
If the reason behind the arthritis is a serious orthopedic condition or injury (which is often the cause of arthritis in younger dogs), Richardson points out that the best option is usually surgery. “In some cases, surgery may be able to remove some of the painful joint components, or even replace the joint entirely,” she explains.
In any case, the first main step is always to figure out the cause of the arthritis. In instances where it’s caused by an immune issue or an infectious disease (like in the case of Lyme disease), surgery is not suitable, and other forms of treatment will be required to treat the underlying condition.
Aside from surgery, Richardson recommends a multi-modal approach, combining several different therapies. If your dog is carrying a few extra pounds, weight management should be at the top of that list. Extra weight puts stress on the joints, causing pain and discomfort. Next is lifestyle modifications, such as switching from high-impact exercise (no more jumping and running) to nice, long walks or swimming. At home, adding ramps to help your dog get on the couch will also prevent the constant stress on the joints from jumping up and down the furniture.
“When diagnosed early, Adequan injections can be prescribed to help reduce the loss of protective cartilage in the joints,” says Richardson.
Plus, she adds that there are a number of useful supplements for dogs with arthritis, including glucosamine/chondroitin, omega 3 fatty acids, like our Bye Bye Doggy Aches; and CBD oil, which can help relieve pain in dogs suffering from arthritis and can work well as part of your dog’s treatment plan.
You should also consider investing on an orthopedic memory foam bed and looking into rehabilitation such as aqua-therapy (e.g. swimming and underwater treadmill), cold laser therapy, and massages. According to Richardson, these treatments can improve joint mobility and increase muscle mass, which will in turn ease stiffness and pain and improve exercise endurance.