Q: Our pug Daisy is only 5 years old and she’s already been diagnosed with arthritis. She’s not in any pain but she has trouble getting up and she’s morphed into a chunky couch potato. We thought it was because she had gained too much weight, but our vet says it’s partly her joint problem that’s made her fat. How can this happen so young? Plus, I thought arthritis was a big dog problem.
A: Arthritis is a joint process that can compromise a dog’s mobility and comfort. The key to recognizing arthritis is to understand that pain, per se, need not be an overt component of this disease process.
Dogs, after all, don’t display pain like we do. Unless severely and suddenly affected, dogs will typically show pain by engaging in more subdued daily activities, often simply by becoming couch potatoes like Daisy.
More typically seen in older dogs but capable of affecting even very young dogs, arthritis can be caused by injury, infection, the body’s own immune system or developmental/hereditary abnormalities. By far the most common form of arthritis, however is referred to in scientific circles as “osteoarthritis” or “degenerative joint disease.” This appears to be what’s happening in Daisy’s case.
Here’s an explanation: Normally, joints form smooth connections between bones. Osteoarthritis involves thinning of joint cartilage (a protective cushioning between bones), buildup of fluid within the joint, and the formation of bony growths within the joint. Over time, this can lead to reduced joint mobility, as well as subtle signs of pain.
Shockingly, osteoarthritis currently affects one out of every five dogs, young or old. And yet, the condition is often under-recognized by owners who assume the symptoms of arthritis are an inevitable part of their dog’s normal aging process.
A patient’s X-rays will usually reveal swelling and/or bony changes at the joints, but arthritis can also be diagnosed based on a patient’s history and physical exam findings.
Arthritis occurs most commonly in large to giant breeds and to breeds predisposed to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, intervertebral disc disease and other hereditary forms of joint disease, but it can affect all breeds of dogs. In the case of Pugs, it’s important to note that their breed’s abnormally dwarfed limbs and predisposition to obesity makes them a target for arthritis.
As to treatment: Medication may well be indicated in Daisy’s case but slimming her down will likely make the biggest difference of all. Get on that!