A Guide to Arthritis in German Shepherds

The breeding practices adopted in recent decades make arthritis in German Shepherds more widespread. A major cause of disability in senior dogs, this inflammatory condition can affect any of your pet’s joints – causing pain and discomfort.

Arthritis in German Shepherds

Arthritis Effects on German Shepherds

Arthritis is a medical term used to highlight the inflammation of joints. Dog experts claim that about 70% of senior dogs aged 7 and above are likely to have arthritis.

The most commonly affected joints are located in:

  • shoulder
  • elbow
  • hip
  • knee
  • hock
  • wrist
  • backbone


Types of Arthritis in Dogs

There are different types of arthritis that can affect your German Shepherd.

  • Osteoarthritis

Degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis is the most commonly known type of arthritis. It specifically refers to a form of chronic joint inflammation that happens due to cartilage deterioration.

  • Septic Arthritis

This type of arthritis is caused by bacterial or fungal infection. It is common to see septic arthritis in German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Doberman Pinschers.

  • Immune-Mediated Polyarthritis (IMPA)

It is a type of arthritis that occurs when white blood cells or neutrophils invade the joints of your dog. Normally, neutrophils kill bacteria and other invading pathogens inside the body by releasing “irritating” substances. In IMPA, the substances are released into your pet’s joint, causing the area to swell and become painful.

Immune-mediated polyarthritis can either be:

  • erosive, where bone and cartilage are destroyed
  • non-erosive, where there is no destruction of bone or cartilage


Causes of Arthritis in German Shepherds

There are different things that can cause arthritis in German Shepherds. These may include

  • physical deformities
  • fungal infection
  • bacterial infection
  • congenital abnormalities
  • immune system problems
  • traumatic injuries
  • joint infections
  • cartilage damage
  • wear and tear of the joints due to aging

The cartilage functions as a shock absorber in healthy and normal joints. When it is damaged, the bones start to rub against each other causing joint inflammation. Osteophytes, which are bony outgrowths, may also develop.

When there is severe thinning of the cartilage, the joint space narrows. This causes the bones beneath the cartilage to deteriorate.


Symptoms of Arthritis in German Shepherds

It is possible to identify signs of arthritis in German Shepherds by looking for signs of pain. In early stages of arthritis, the symptoms may be subtle and difficult to spot. Common signs of arthritis in German Shepherds include:

  • abnormal gait
  • lameness
  • reluctance to get up in the morning
  • refusal to go up or down the stairs
  • reluctance to climb up or down furniture or higher places
  • visible joint deformities
  • stiffness
  • swollen joints
  • painful joints when touched
  • lethargy
  • weight gain
  • sudden aggression or irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • abnormal walking stance
  • limping
  • licking of the affected area


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Diagnosing Arthritis in German Shepherds

If the vet finds signs of arthritis in your German Shepherd, he may suggest radiographs (x-rays) to check the joints for any changes in the bone or cartilage, the presence of osteophytes, mineralization of soft tissues, or other changes associated with arthritis. The analysis of the joint fluid may be done to determine whether the cause of arthritis is infection or immune-related.


Easing Arthritis in German Shepherds

Arthritis is progressive and irreversible but there are many ways to help your arthritic German Shepherd feel better.

  • Make your home comfortable

Make your home setting and floor comfortable for your German Shepherd to stand and walk easily. Get special orthopedic and warming dog beds for your arthritic pet.

  • Massage your German Shepherd

You can either hire a canine massage therapist or learn how to massage your arthritic German Shepherd on your own. Massage stimulates blood flow to muscles and joints, helping your dog feel better. Placing warm compresses on sore joints also soothe the muscles.

  • Manage your German Shepherd’s weight by doing low-impact exercises

Exercise is always important for German Shepherds even if they are arthritic. Choose low-impact exercises to avoid stressing your pet already suffering due to problematic joints.

Swimming and underwater treadmills are good forms of exercise for dogs with arthritis. If the pool or underwater treadmill is unavailable, mild leash walking is good enough.

Keeping your arthritic German Shepherd fit prevents him from feeling more pain. Additional weight can make his joints more painful. Excess fat tissues also produce pain-promoting hormones, which could make your German Shepherd feel worse.

  • Talk to your veterinarian about medications, supplements and treatment options

There are different options available to help ease the discomfort of an arthritic dog. This includes supplements, medications, and other forms of treatments, such as cold laser treatment, acupuncture, stem cell, and even surgery.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are also commonly used to treat arthritis pain. Non-NSAID medications, including tramadol and gabapentin, can also help treat arthritis in dogs.

Sometimes, veterinarians recommend supplements, such as chondroitin, glucosamine, MSM, fish oil, boswellia, and curcumin to help treat arthritis pain.

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