Canine rheumatism is a degenerative disease that affects the joints and cartilage of an otherwise healthy dog. It can occur in most any breed at almost any age, with no real warning signs. Canine rheumatism is a progressive disease, which means that it will not get better without treatment, and even with treatment, it usually tends to get worse over time. The ultimate result of rheumatism tends to be the total destruction of cartilage cushioning between joints and the death of cells that produce that cartilage. As a result, these bones grind together very painfully, and motor function can be lost altogether.
Canine rheumatism most often occurs as the result of either trauma or bacterial infection, and is most prevalent in dogs that have already reached middle age, as well as older dogs. That said, it can easily happen in younger dogs as well, especially if they're of one of the breeds that are predisposed to joint ailments such as hip dysplasia.
There is no treatment or cure for canine rheumatism, but drug therapy to manage the pain and treat the symptoms has traditionally been very successful. In general, drugs can help to restore some small amount of mobility and slow down the destruction of cartilage. Aspirin is the drug of choice in most dogs effected with the disease, but its been known to occasionally produce severe gastrointestinal side effects such as stomach ulcers or Crohn's disease. Carprofen is a more potent form of aspirin, but it too is not without side effects and has been known to cause liver toxicity if taken regularly over a long period of time. A new treatment called chondroprotective can act as a protective force for cartilage as it works to repair itself. It comes in the form of a dietary supplement unregulated by the FDA and as such, there are still many debates as to its effectiveness.
Drug therapy is most effective, however, when it's employed in conjunction with a balanced diet and regular exercise routine. For dogs that suffer from canine rheumatism, high-impact exercise such as running and jumping should be totally restricted. Such animals should instead get their exercise from low-impact forms of exercise such as light walking or even swimming.
If canine rheumatism proves to be particularly severe in your animal, there are several surgical options available. One of the most effective is an operation which removes the entire head of the femoral bone, thus stopping the uncomfortable grinding that is associated with the disease. Note that this is only an option for those animals whose rheumatism affects their hip. In the most extreme scenarios, total replacement of the hip bone with a prosthetic device is also possible. Such courses of action, however, are always considered a last resort.
Canine rheumatism, it's important to remember, is a progressive disease. While there is no cure, however, treatments have been very effective with this disease in particular and there is great hope even for severe cases.