Canine osteoarthritis, or OA, is very common. In the US, it is estimated that nearly a quarter of all dogs over 1 year of age have this debilitating condition that can affect numerous joints in the dog’s body, including the shoulders, elbows, wrists (the “carpus”), hips, knees (the “stifle”), and the spine.
Pet parents are usually the first to notice the initial signs of OA, such as limping, having trouble jumping up or down, and lagging behind on walks. Talking with your veterinarian about these early signs can lead to an earlier diagnosis. And that’s important because as OA progresses, the cartilage that normally cushions the joints further deteriorates, causing joint bones to rub painfully against each other when your dog moves. The more advanced the disease becomes, the more difficult it is to manage effectively.
There are 5 main steps in diagnosing canine OA. Diagnosis usually involves a combination of your dog’s medical history, a thorough physical exam, and various types of imaging (ie, X-rays). We will cover each of these 5 steps in greater detail in this article:
- Step 1: History and Physical Examination. The diagnosis begins by assessing your dog’s general health
- Step 2: Gait and Mobility. Next, the veterinarian will evaluate how well your dog moves
- Step 3: Standing Exam. The veterinarian will then examine your dog while in a standing position
- Step 4: Recumbent Exam. After the standing exam, the veterinarian will examine your dog while lying down
- Step 5: Imaging. Finally, the veterinarian will recommend diagnostic imaging to see what is going on inside the joint
- Getting your dog’s medical history. This is done to assess your dog’s general health, learn about any recent injuries, and get your input on signs of discomfort you may have observed, such as reluctance to exercise, lethargy, changes in appetite or temperament, licking or chewing on the affected joint, seeking warmth and comfortable bedding, difficulty posturing to toilet, and so forth. In helping your veterinarian better understand your dog’s case, it’s very helpful if you can bring along a video of your dog because some dogs may hide symptoms once they are in the veterinarian’s exam room.
- Observing your dog’s gait and mobility. The veterinarian will want to watch how your dog moves when walking and trotting. It’s helpful to do this on various inclines, stairs, and surfaces because dogs with OA often have difficulty going up and down stairs and trouble walking on slick floors. Your veterinarian will be looking for signs of gait abnormalities such as a shortened stride, walking with a toe in or out, stumbling, leg crisscrossing, dragging toenails, bobbing the head, an asymmetric pelvic motion, weakness, and vocalization, like whimpering. He or she will also listen for any audible clicking sound coming from your dog’s joints.
- Performing the standing exam. Next, your dog’s body conformation will be assessed while he or she is standing. Your veterinarian will be looking for symmetry and alignment of the legs and body, making note if your dog is favoring certain legs, has altered-limb motion, or is trembling while standing still. He or she will then perform what are referred to as the “sit test” and the “down test” to see if your dog favors a limb when sitting or lying down. As part of the standing exam, your veterinarian will also feel your dog’s lymph nodes, neck and shoulders, and check for muscle weakening, joint thickness, and misalignment.
- Performing the recumbent exam. This exam is performed with your dog lying down. Your veterinarian will feel your dog for signs of asymmetry from an injury, degenerative changes, inflammation, congenital defects, and any abnormal growths, making note if your dog responds as if the exam is causing pain. He or she will also feel and move your dog’s joints to identify any swelling, heat, malalignment, clicking or crunching, and muscle deterioration.
- Getting a look inside with joint with diagnostic imaging. Your veterinarian will likely want to take some X-rays of your dog’s joint(s) to look for structural changes in the bones. However, X-rays are limited because they can’t provide much information about soft tissue changes. For this reason, your veterinarian may also recommend other imaging, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which can enable him or her to see problems with soft tissue structures, like ligaments, and CT (computed tomography) scans, which enable him or her to assess bone structural changes in more complex joints, such as the elbows.
Treatment options for canine OA. Following the exam and confirmed diagnosis of your dog’s OA, your veterinarian will discuss the different treatment approaches with you. First, he or she will want to work with you to help your dog maintain a healthy weight, which is critical. Extra weight puts an enormous amount of stress on the joints, which can lead to further damage. Your veterinarian will also discuss a treatment plan, which may include rehabilitation, pain control medicines, surgery, and other options.
Synovetin OA® is one such option. It’s an innovative approach to treating canine elbow OA that goes right to the source of OA inflammation and pain. Because it’s not a pill or chew, it only treats the affected joint, not the dog’s whole body. With just 1 quick, simple procedure it has been shown to provide up to 1 full year of enduring pain and inflammation relief to help your dog run and play like normal again. Learn more and see if Synovetin OA might be a good choice for you and your family.
Remember, the sooner your dog can be diagnosed, the sooner he or she can start a treatment plan to manage OA pain and enjoy a better quality of life!
Learn more about to role of inflammation in canine OA, please read the next article.
If you’d like more information about canine OA, Leah Sexton, RVT and Synovetin OA® c.a.r.e. partner is available to answer your questions at no charge. Click here to schedule a time to talk with her.