Apr 24 2013

Hip Arthritis in Large Breed Dogs

We were recently asked to complete a survey for a high school science class interested in arthritis in Labrador Retrievers. Here are the questions and answers:

1.What age do Labrador Retrievers usually contract arthritis?

7 years old tends to be the typical onset of presentation of clinical signs. This age greatly depends on the individual’s genetics and environment. For example, dogs who develop hip dysplasia at a young age start to have changes very early in life. This being said, the development of clinically apparent arthritis (limping or showing signs of pain) is much later than the radiographic (x-ray) evidence of arthritic changes in joints.

2.How often do you see a young (age 0-6), Labrador Retriever with arthritis?

Based on our experience, about 20% of young dogs have early evidence of arthritis

3.How often do you see an older (age7+), Labrador Retriever with arthritis?

Age 7-10 years –  probably about 50-60%; over 10 years – about 90-99%.

4.Are there methods to prevent arthritis in a Labrador Retriever?

This depends on the type and location of arthritis. Arthritis due to hip dysplasia can be minimized with a surgical procedure such as a TPO (triple pelvic osteotomy) which will help align the joints more favorably. This does not prevent arthritis from forming but can greatly reduce the severity and thus the clinical signs are seen later in life. There are medications/supplements that have been shown to slow down the progression of arthritis and thus leave the dog pain free for as long as possible. These include polyglycan injections and glucosamine/chondroiten supplements. NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Rimadyl and Metacam) can help keep an arthritis patient comfortable enough to live a relatively normal life but does not prevent the arthritis itself, just the signs.

5.If a young Labrador Retriever contracted arthritis is there a way to help the disease or rid of it?

As said above, there are definitely ways to help the disease but no true way to get rid of it. Another thing that significantly helps over the dog’s lifetime is keeping them at an optimal weight and giving them plenty of exercise. The more overweight a dog is, the more pressure put on those joints. Excess weight alone can make arthritis symptoms worse. Exercising helps build strong muscles which keeps joints healthier as well.

6.How long can a Labrador Retriever live with arthritis before they cannot use their joints anymore?

Unfortunately, this depends on a lot of factors. The later in life that a dog starts to show signs, generally the longer they can go. In addition, the dogs that are a better weight and more in shape tend to live longer as well. Dogs that are started on supplements earlier rather than later and are given a very proactive approach to the arthritis tend to do better longer. The oldest lab I have ever seen was 15 years old. However, some only make it to about 10 years or so before they have to be euthanized for pain from the arthritis and the inability to walk.

7.How does arthritis affect a Labrador Retriever’s physiology?

Arthritis by definition is inflammation in the joints. Inflammation itself, no matter where it is located, can have an impact on the body as a whole. Inflammatory cells do this by releasing certain signals to the rest of the body. The nerves and brain are especially affected because they can get pain “wind-up”. This is a phenomenon where the nerves are receiving pain signals so often that normal pain medication will not help the pain. You have to use an even stronger pain medication to have the nerves “recognize” that the pain is not as severe as they think it is.

That being said, one of the biggest physiological changes that we see with arthritis patients themselves are side effects of the medications that they are usually on. The most common type of medication used to treat arthritis is the NSAIDs (as mentioned above). These medications are well tolerated by most patients but can have side effects in some if used long term. Short term side effects can include vomiting, diarrhea or blood in the stool. Long term side effects can include liver damage, kidney damage and other problems. These medications tend to cause much worse side effects if an animal already have liver, kidney or intestinal disease and are generally not used when that is the case. However, if an animal truly needs medication to remain comfortable and pain free, there are many options available and those should be discussed with your veterinarian.

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