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Joint Health In Dogs

Dogs are beloved members of our families, and their well-being is of utmost importance. One crucial aspect of their health that requires attention is their joint health. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from joint issues that can impact their quality of life, such as cruciate ligament ruptures and osteoarthritis.

Cruciate Ligament Ruptures

The knee joint in dogs is a complex structure consisting of the femur, tibia, patella, and the fabellae bone. It is supported by two crucial ligaments – the cranial and caudal cruciate ligaments. These ligaments form an ‘X’ within the joint, providing stability and preventing the femur from sliding too far forward or backward on top of the tibia.

Unfortunately, the cranial cruciate ligament is prone to rupture in dogs, whether as a gradual wear-and-tear process, often seen in older and larger dogs, or as a sudden injury, common in active, young, and large breeds. A ruptured cruciate ligament renders the knee unstable, causing the dog to be reluctant to bear weight on that leg. If left untreated, especially in larger dogs, significant osteoarthritis can develop, and returning to normal function becomes unlikely.

A diagram of a dog's leg

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Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose a cruciate rupture, a thorough assessment under sedation or general anesthesia is required. Two primary diagnostic methods are used:

  • The Drawer Sign: This test involves stabilizing the femur and attempting to slide the tibia forward. If the cruciate ligament is intact, the tibia should not move. A ruptured or partially torn cruciate allows the tibia to move forward.
  • Radiographs: X-rays of the knee help prepare for surgery and assess the extent of damage from the rupture. Swelling within the joint and bony changes are signs to look for.

Surgical repair is often recommended. Surgery aims to stabilize the joint, prevent the forward movement of the tibia, and provide immediate relief. This reduces the development of osteoarthritis, although some arthritis may be inevitable and managed post-operatively.

If surgery is not feasible due to financial or medical constraints, conservative management is an option. This focuses on managing osteoarthritis, including supplements for joint health, weight management, diet modification, acupuncture, physiotherapy, laser therapy, and joint support injections.

Post-Surgery Care

Post-surgical care is vital for a successful cruciate repair surgery:

  • Confinement: Your dog must be confined for a minimum of 6 weeks after surgery to prevent excessive activity.
  • Controlled Exercise: No jumping, running, or stair climbing is allowed initially. Controlled, short on-leash walks are permitted after the first few weeks.
  • Enrichment: Keep your dog mentally stimulated with non-exercise activities like puzzle toys and scent games.

Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis (OA), is a progressive, irreversible condition of the joints. It can result from underlying health conditions, such as cruciate rupture, or normal wear and tear with age.

A diagram of a bone joint

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Signs of Arthritis in Dogs

Dogs are skilled at hiding pain, but some signs to watch for include:

  • Lameness or changes in gait
  • Stiffness, especially after rest
  • Reluctance to jump or climb
  • Slower pace during exercise
  • Muscle wastage in affected areas
  • Joint swelling

Diagnosis and Management

Diagnosis includes a physical examination and radiographs to confirm the presence of arthritis. A therapeutic trial using pain relief medications may also be employed.

While arthritis cannot be cured, various treatments can improve your dog’s quality of life:

  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on joints.
  • Pain Relief: Medications like NSAIDs and gabapentin can alleviate pain.
  • Synovan Injections: These help reduce joint pain and slow arthritis progression.
  • Acupuncture and Laser Therapy: These treatments reduce pain and improve mobility.
  • Joint Supplements: Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM can aid in joint repair.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: They reduce inflammation around joints.
  • Physiotherapy: Exercises and treatments help strengthen muscles and relieve joint strain.

Taking proactive steps to ensure your dog’s joint health is essential for their happiness and longevity. My Kind of Vet can help you address these issues and help you provide the best possible care. Book your appointment with us today.