Practical Matters: That old, slow dog: Is it really arthritis?

Mar 01, 2007

Julie D. Smith, DVM, DACVS
Geriatric dogs are commonly referred to us for evaluation of what clients call slowing down. Often the tentative diagnosis before referral is arthritis (or is interpreted by the client as such), and the dog is receiving an NSAID. During our evaluation of large-breed dogs over the age of 12, we sometimes identify conscious proprioceptive deficits, which indicate that a neuropathy is also present. Dogs may or may not have pain associated with degenerative changes on radiographs, so remember that it's not the radiographs we treat. If the dog isn't in pain, the degeneration noted on radiographs may not be a problem clinically.

To definitively diagnose arthritis, arthrocentesis is needed to prove inflammation of the joint in question. Short of that, you can tentatively diagnose clinically relevant arthritis if the dog has specific joint pain and supportive radiographic findings.

If the dog is slowing down because of a neuropathy, switching to another NSAID or changing the dosage will not affect the problem. The dog may need advanced diagnostics such as myelography, computed tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging to determine the cause of the neuropathy.

Physical rehabilitation may help strengthen and increase the quality of life in older dogs that have either arthritis or a neuropathy, and it can be used concurrently with other therapies once the diagnosis has been confirmed. So before switching your NSAID, remember to always look for other underlying issues.

Julie D. Smith, DVM, DACVS
Veterinary Surgical Associates
907 Dell Ave.
Campbell, CA 95008