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In acute pain (sudden and short-lived), inflammation may play a protective role by discouraging a dog from putting weight on a tender paw, giving the tissues some time to repair. Once the affected area recuperates, the inflammation subsides, along with the pain.
In the case of arthritis, however, the damage to the cartilage is progressive, so it worsens over time. As a result, inflammatory substances are continually released, and the dog is in chronic pain that does not serve to help the tissues repair. Over time, the nervous system may actually amplify the intensity of pain due to constant inflammation within and around the joint.
As a result of this pain, a dog is less likely to use the joint, causing the surrounding muscles to weaken and atrophy. This then contributes to weight gain, which adds more stress on the joints, leading to more inflammation.
If you suspect that your dog may have osteoarthritis, it’s important to have him examined by your veterinarian. There are many steps that you can take to help your dog feel more comfortable, and even slow the progression of the condition.
In many cases, your vet may recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). These medications work quickly to not only relieve the pain associated with arthritis but to also reduce inflammation that can contribute to further cartilage damage and pain.
Some nutraceuticals, such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine, can also benefit dogs with osteoarthritis. Talk to your vet before giving any supplements or nutraceuticals to your pet though. Most of these nutraceuticals are available in pill form, but there are also special "arthritis diets" that contain higher levels of these nutrients. However, the effects don’t happen overnight — it make take a few weeks before you notice a difference in your dog.
Your veterinarian may also recommend injectable cartilage protectants to help minimize cartilage damage and increase joint lubrication.
For dogs who are on the chubbier side, weight loss can significantly reduce the stress on joints and improve overall comfort. Veterinarian-monitored exercise and physical therapy can also help to rebuild muscle strength — and get an arthritic dog mobile again.
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