Dogs, like any other animal, will tend to experience it as they age. There are several different kinds of it, and they differ mainly based on the cause. All it is is basically a problem of the joints, but there are two basic ways that the pain can be caused: first, by inflammation around the joints, and second, by degeneration of the cartilage, a sort of cushion for the joints that stops them from hitting each other as the dog moves.
1) Inflammation - This kind can be caused by infection, injury, and immune system problems, among other things. Essentially, some other problem will cause the tissue around the dog's joints to become inflammed, which means that it reddens and becomes painful as a result of injury to the tissue.
2) Cartilage destruction - This kind happens when the dog's cartilage gradually begins to wear down. Cartilage is a soft kind of tissue that fits between the joints of the bones in your dog. It ensures that as the joints move around, the bones don't grind against each other, and it gives support for the bones during this movement. As dogs age, this cartilage may start to wear down as a normal part of aging. It can also happen as a result of strenuous kinds of activity during youth - this is the reason many ballet dancers and professional athletes will have joint problems as they grow older.
What are the symptoms?
The dog may limp around and seem to have trouble moving. Often it is hard to distinguish from general lethargy - as a result of the pain, the dog may simply not want to move as much, may be less willing to play, or may spend much more time sleeping. It will be painful for the dog to move, and it may stagger when standing up or do so very slowly. It can also sometimes be painful when you touch the dog on its joints, and it may get mad if you do so.
What is the treatment?
Your vet will need to examine your dog to try to determine what is causing the inflammation. Often it is just old age, but it is important to rule out anything potentially serious. Your vet will make a recommendation based on their own experience, but it is important to point out that you may have to try several medications. Most remedies don't work on all dogs - they usually help a good portion of them, but not all. They also tend to work in vastly different ways. For example, supplements are basically the same thing as vitamins, except they give your dog nutrients that are useful in rebuilding cartilage. For many dogs, this is enough and will dramatically improve their lives. For other dogs, anti-inflammatory medicines have had great success. There are a huge variety of different approaches, and you should always consult your vet because some of them have side effects that you need to watch out for.
For more specific information, these pages have details on some arthritis medicines and supplements that can be used on dogs:
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