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arthritis

Maltese Arthritis

Overview

There are 4 types of arthritis with canines: Osteoarthritis (this is the most common form and the one that we will cover here), immune-mediated, infective, and idiopathic (cause unknown). With osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease) a dog’s joints become inflamed and painful. This is seen most often with older dogs, age 8-years and up; though, adults 6+ years can benefit from preventative measures. 

Here, we will discuss:
  • What happens when arthritis occurs with a Maltese
  • Causes
  • Symptoms
  • Prevention
  • Treatment options, both at home, through the veterinarian, and alternative treatments

What Happens

Cartilage serves as a cushion between bones. It allows the body to move fluidly and without pain. Several elements keep cartilage healthy, including glucosamine and chondroitin. However, as a dog ages, the body produces these compounds in decreasing amounts. 

This leads to cartilage becoming thin and wearing down. When it does, bones start to rub together, with joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. With progression, bones can become structurally damaged. 

Causes

Unfortunately, this is a common part of aging; 80% of dogs 8+ years are affected by some level of arthritis. This is why it's vital to be aware of this issue as your Maltese nears this age; typically the 6-year-mark is one that owners need to start making preemptive changes. 

There are also some contributing factors that can affect the age of onset and severity of a Maltese developing arthritis. Dogs that have had luxating patella or hip dysplasia are more prone to develop arthritis in those areas (knees or hips). 

Weight plays a factor; since this is a small toy breed dog, the Maltese breed is not prone to being overweight; however, some older adults and seniors may carry a few extra pounds, especially if they have become sedentary. The more weight that’s on a joint, the more stressed the joint becomes, and the more likely it will wear down and be damaged.

Symptoms

  • Steady onset of weakness in one or more limb. 
  • A general ‘slowing down’
  • Lethargy, easily tiring out
  • Joint stiffness (difficultly rising from a down position, navigating stairs, etc., this is usually worse in the morning and may improve as a Maltese's day goes on)
  • Discomfort (may manifest as retreating, depressed behavior, fidgeting when resting, and/or trouble sleeping)
  • Symptoms may flare-up in the winter and on cool, rainy days

Diagnosis

• X-rays are currently the best method to access the severity of arthritis 
• As a second step, joint fluid may be collected and analyzed

Prevention

If you are proactive about this, you can reduce the chances of your Maltese developing arthritis, or at the very least, reduce the severity of it:  

1. Keep your Maltese on a daily exercise routine. This should be 2 to 3 walks per day, for a minimum of 20 minutes per walk, at a pace that is brisk for your dog, and ideally, a 15 to 20-minute session of cardio, such as fetch. 

2. Limit actions that can cause injury. This particularly includes jumping from too high of a height such as leaping off sofas or other furniture. For favorite spots, place pet steps or a ramp. Use gates at the top of stairways, if it makes sense to do so. 

3. Supplements. Starting at 6-years-old, offer a glucosamine and chondroitin joint supplement. At 8+ years, it may be a good idea to offer one that also contains MSM and Coenzyme Q10. See more below, under ‘Treatment’. 
4. Keep your senior Maltese at a healthy weight. Though weight issues are not common with this breed, even a pound or two can make a big difference.         

Treatment

At Home: 

There are several things you can do to help your older Maltese in terms of mobility and comfort. 

1. Steps and ramps. Place pet steps and/or ramps up against sofas, chairs, and other furniture that your dog likes to rest on.
2. Provide a proper orthopedic (memory foam) canine bed. Dogs with arthritis require proper support for sore joints, and since older dogs will rest and sleep in increasing amounts as they age, a good bed is a must for preventing pressure-sores. One like the PetFusion Ultimate Solid Memory Foam Bed for Small Dogs is a superior, quality memory foam bed that is ideal sized for Maltese. It's washable, as well, which is a big plus. 

3. Check for drafts. Ensure that your dog does not rest or sleep near cool drafts. 
4. Prevent slipping, by placing skid-free rugs on hardwood floors and routinely applying a quality paw wax like Musher's Secret for help with traction. 

5. Keep up with exercise. When a dog is feeling stiff from arthritis, staying house-bound can exacerbate the problem. With your vet’s ‘okay’ one or two ‘easy’ walks per day can help loosen up joints and improve mobility. 

6. Body manipulation. This may include massage (a certified canine massage therapist can show you the technique to perform at home), and/or gentle placement of warm compresses to the affected areas. 
7. Offer daily supplements. While supplements cannot reverse structural damage to bones, glucosamine and chondroitin with MSM and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can help the body repair cartilage, attract proper levels of fluid into tissue around the joints for healthy shock absorption and lubrication and also supply nutrients to the cartilage, maintain proper function of blood vessels, and reduce pain and inflammation. 
For this, Doggie Dailies Advanced Joint Supplement is an excellent choice. This is made in the USA with quality ingredients, has additional omega-3 and 6 for skin and coat health (always a concern with older Maltese), and is formulated into tasty little chews. 
In addition, Omega-3 fatty fish oil (DHA and EPA) can help with pain and inflammation. Several types of oils contain omegas including flaxseed, canola, walnut, and soybean. These only provide omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). However, you will want to offer omega-3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are the most effective types for arthritis-related discomfort.  

Omega-3 EPA and DHA is derived from fish. Preferably, you’ll want this to be from wild fish and a liquid formula is one of the easiest to offer as it can be mixed into meals. Most dogs find the scent and flavor exceptionally appealing. We recommend Zesty Paw's Pure Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil, which comes with a pump, making it very easy dispense. 
Veterinary Treatment:
There are medications and other alternative treatments, so be sure to discuss all of these with the veterinarian: 

• Adequan injections. Adequan is an FDA approved injectable disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD) for canines that helps repair cartilage. It can be expensive, and typically needs to be injected twice per week, for up to 4 weeks. However, many owners report improvement with few side effects. 

• NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Rimadyl) can help with pain and inflammation. This will need to be overseen by the veterinarian for proper dosing and careful monitoring of potential side effects, including but not limited to organ damage.

• Steroids such as prednisone may be given; this can only be given short-term without risk of severe side effects. Even short-term, there may be changes in thirst or appetite, and risk of susceptibility to infections. A dog will need to be carefully monitored. 

• Analgesics such as tramadol (a synthetic opioid); this is typically reserved for instances of severe pain and after other treatments and medications have proven ineffective. Gabapentin (a medication for nerve pain) can help as well. 
Alternative treatments: 

• Class IV therapeutic laser, is an alternative treatment that works to stimulate blood flow to tissues.

• Acupuncture - This may help with pain management and is a widely accepted alternative treatment. Many canine acupuncturists will use scented oils and soft lighting to help a dog relax. Then, tiny needles are inserted just barely below the skin into key points of the body; most dogs tolerate this well. A session can last from 5 to 20 minutes. 

• Prolotherapy involves regular injections of dextrose (sometimes with lidocaine and/or vitamin B 12), meant to stimulate cell growth and strengthen joint tissue. 

A Final Word

If your Maltese is an older adult, yet not quite a senior (6 to nearing 8-years-old), it is time to start taking steps to prevent issues that are very commonly seen among senior dogs. If your Maltese already a senior, it's vital to never accept arthritis as something that must be tolerated; there are many steps you can take to dramatically reduce discomfort and improve mobility, so that your Maltese can enjoy his/her later years, as is quite deserved.  
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