Huge UK Study Reveals the Most Osteoarthritis-Prone Dog

Huge UK Study Reveals the Most Osteoarthritis-Prone Dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • A recently published U.K. study of nearly 500,000 dogs concludes that of all the breeds, the Rottweiler is most likely to develop osteoarthritis
  • The study also revealed that overweight dogs are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with arthritis
  • Arthritis can be a primary disease that comes with aging; it can also be a secondary disease with a wide range of causes
  • There are several signs of arthritis dog parents should be aware of; the most common are limping and difficulty moving
  • Treatment is focused on controlling or alleviating symptoms; it’s important to partner with a holistic or integrative vet to customize a multi-modal treatment protocol for arthritic pets

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Some of the most popular and truly wonderful dog breeds are unfortunately predisposed to several serious diseases, and one of them is the magnificent Rottweiler. The list of disease tendencies in this breed includes:

Hip and elbow dysplasia

Bloat

Heart disease (subaortic stenosis)

Allergies

Craniate cruciate ligament (CCL) tears

Bone cancer

Entropion (an inward-turning eyelid)

An unusually high susceptibility to parvovirus in puppies

As if all those potential health challenges weren't enough, a new study by scientists at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the U.K. indicates Rottweilers also top the list of dogs most likely to suffer from osteoarthritis (OA).1

Largest UK Study to Date Shows Rottweilers Are the Breed Most Likely to Develop Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common canine joint disease, and this study is the largest of its kind to date, covering nearly half a million dogs. To sample such a large number of dogs, the RVC used a newly developed research database called VetCompass, which looks at the veterinary records of 10 million animal patients at 1,000 veterinary practices across the U.K. The results showed that in the U.K.:

  • Rotties are the breed most prone to osteoarthritis, followed by the Old English Sheepdog and the Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Labrador Retrievers are the most commonly treated breed for OA (probably because there are so many Labs in the U.K.)
  • 2.5 percent of dogs involved in the study had OA; generalizing this percentage to the total population of dogs in the U.K. means that around 200,000 suffer from the condition
  • Overweight dogs were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with the condition
  • Male dogs were 1.2 times more likely to have OA than female dogs

The study results also showed that dogs with OA are typically diagnosed by the age of 10.5 years, and 75 percent of them are put on maintenance medication for pain relief. The RVC researchers hope their study will raise awareness among veterinarians and pet parents, resulting in earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of Arthritis

As I mentioned earlier, osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD) or degenerative arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis in pets. It's characterized by progressive, long-term and permanent deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the joints. Arthritis can be a primary disease that occurs as part of the aging process, or a secondary disease with a wide range of causes, including:

Abnormal wear and tear on joints and cartilage

Dislocation of the kneecap or subluxation of the kneecap or shoulder

Trauma

Osteochondritis dissecans

Genetic defect (e.g., hip dysplasia)

Obesity

Excessive laxity of the joints

Certain drugs2

Abnormal development of the hip or elbow

Prolonged steroid therapy

Signs to Watch for in Your Own Dog

Symptoms of arthritis vary and include:

Limping — Limping is the No. 1 sign of arthritis in pets. If your dog or cat is favoring one or more limbs, especially when he stands up from a lying or seated position, there's a good possibility he's dealing with arthritic joints. Often the limp will be less pronounced after he's been moving around for a while.

Difficulty moving — Pets with arthritis often display reluctance or an inability to do certain things they once did with ease. For example, your dog may be hesitant to jump into or out of your car because he's achy, or your kitty may try to jump up on a table or bed and not quite make it because painful joints have compromised her leaping ability.

Spinal issues — Arthritic joints also occur in certain areas of the spine, which can cause your pet to hold his head lower than normal due to a sore neck, or adopt sort of a hunchback posture. Lameness in one or both back legs can also be a sign of arthritis in the spine.

Fatigue — Pets with arthritis tend to tire more easily than animals with healthy joints, because pain and movement issues drain energy. You may notice your dog or cat is spending less time moving around and more time resting or sleeping.

Irritability — The discomfort of arthritic joints can make even the most easygoing, friendly pet a bit snappish, especially if he's being petted or handled in a way that increases his pain.

Muscle atrophy — Left untreated, a dog or cat with arthritis will suffer muscle atrophy, which is the dying off of muscle tissue from lack of use. If one or more of your pet's legs appears thinner than the others, it means the muscles of that leg are wasting away.

Licking, chewing and biting at specific areas of the body — Some pets with arthritis lick, chew or bite at the skin overlying a painful joint, in an attempt to get some relief from discomfort. If this behavior becomes obsessive, your dog or cat can develop inflamed skin, hair loss and hot spots over affected areas.

Lifestyle Suggestions for Arthritic Dogs

Fortunately, in many cases dogs with degenerative joint disease can be well managed with a natural, nontoxic protocol. In my experience, a multimodal approach to managing arthritis is critical for slowing its progression, including:

Physical therapy — Physical therapy is an absolute must for arthritic dogs and should be designed to maintain and increase joint strength, muscle tone and range of motion. This can be accomplished with therapeutic exercises, swimming and massage.

Weight management — Keeping your four-legged family member at a lean, healthy weight is also absolutely crucial in preventing or alleviating arthritis symptoms. An overweight dog with arthritis can have noticeable improvement in symptoms after losing just a small amount of body weight.

Exercise — Dogs need to move their bodies more, not less, as they age. Although the intensity, duration and type of exercise will change, daily activity is still crucial to prevent profound musculoskeletal weakness with age. Muscles maintain your dog's frame, so preserving muscle tone will also slow the amount of joint laxity (which causes arthritis) as well.

Daily, consistent, lifelong exercise is the very best long-term strategy to delay the onset of arthritis symptoms. Without it, dogs exhibit more profound symptoms much earlier in life.

Other crucial factors in maintaining the health of an arthritic pet include feeding a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet (which is naturally anti-inflammatory) and avoiding unnecessary revaccinations (titer test instead).

In addition to therapies such as laser treatments and the Assisi loop, I've found that incorporating maintenance chiropractic, underwater treadmill, massage, acupuncture and daily stretching along with an oral protocol to manage pain and inflammation yields the best results possible for an arthritic dog, and can dramatically delay the need for pharmaceutical interventions if instituted early on in the disease process.

Oral Protocol Recommendations

Chondroprotective agents (CPAs) that protect the joints, including glucosamine sulfate, MSM, eggshell membrane, perna mussel (green-lipped clam), Adequan and cetyl myristoleate are essential for dogs with arthritis. CPAs slow the rate of cartilage degeneration, which is critical.

The form, dose and type of CPA your veterinarian prescribes should be based on a careful assessment of your dog's individual needs. CPAs should be blended with pain control options as necessary.

There are many natural remedies for arthritis that can reduce or eliminate the need for painkillers, including a high-quality omega-3 supplement (krill oil), ubiquinol, turmeric, supergreen foods (spirulina, astaxanthin), natural anti-inflammatory formulas, homeopathic remedies (Rhus tox, Bryonia and Arnica, for example) and Esterified Fatty Acid Complex (EFAC). I have found CBD oil can be one of the safest long-term management strategies for chronic pain.

There are also ayurvedic and Chinese herbs and nutraceuticals that can be very beneficial for dogs with arthritis, depending on their individual symptoms. It's important to monitor your pet's symptoms on an ongoing basis, because arthritis progresses over time.

Your dog's body is constantly changing, and her treatment protocol will need to evolve as well, which is why partnering with a functional medicine vet is so important if your goal is maintain your dog's quality of life for as long as possible without drugs. In the vast majority of mild to moderate joint pain cases, if CPAs and natural pain control options are initiated early, the need for intermittent NSAID therapy can be minimized to those occasional "bad days" when the weather or the day's activities temporarily exacerbated the dog's discomfort.

Moderate to severe joint pain cases (requiring consistent NSAID drug administration to maintain quality of life) can rely on lower drug doses by using an integrative protocol that's instituted early on and evolves with a patient's age.

I definitely recommend finding an integrative or proactive, functional medicine veterinarian to work with you to customize a comprehensive protocol for your pet. Practitioners who've gone beyond their traditional veterinary school training to learn and incorporate complimentary therapies into their practice will have many more options to offer your arthritic dog or kitty over the course of his or her lifetime.

I also recommend bringing your pet for a wellness checkup with your veterinarian at least twice a year to review the status of her health, and to check the range of motion in her joints, the muscle mass she's either gaining or losing, and to make adjustments to her protocol as necessary to ensure her quality of life is optimal.