Arthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease)
Arthritis is an ailment where the joints of the bones degenerate at age. Like human beings, all dogs can suffer from Arthritis as they age. Healthy German Shepherds seem not to be particularly susceptible to Arthritis, but generally all dogs may develop it as they age due to the nature of their joints, especially their hips and shoulders. Therefore, German Shepherds with Hip Dysplasia (see 2) or Elbow Dysplasia (see 3) are likely to suffer Arthritis too later in life.
Who Gets Arthritis
Purebred dogs are generally more susceptible to Arthritis, especially large dogs with a lot of weight put on their joints. All dogs can get Arthritis at some point in life, but Obesity (see 25) is a major contributing factor, and dogs that put undue stress on their joints (eg excessive jumping) can suffer much more from it than others.
Most commonly, dogs that are overweight and don’t get enough exercise develop Arthritis.
In addition to the above, younger dogs can get Arthritis if they sustain an injury that puts undue stress on the joints.
Hence it is best to look out for these three warning signs. Also, when your German Shepherd gets older, watch for any signs that (s)he is losing its full range of motion. If your dog slows down, cannot get up stairs, or has trouble getting into the car at any point, you should visit a vet to determine the extent of the Arthritis and if your GSD needs medication or other aids to live life as normal.
Avoiding and Treating Arthritis
Arthritis can be avoided or at least postponed with regular exercise, a healthy diet and a careful eye for whenever your dog’s range of motion decreases. It is often inevitable at age though, and in that case it will be an issue that initially needs to be attended by a vet.
For the treatment of Arthritis a number of medications are available to reduce pain without side effects, and to improve the range of motion as your German Shepherd gets older.
Although there is no cure for Arthritis yet, countless dog owners claim that a daily tablet of the joint health supplement Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM has removed all its symptoms - so much that even 12 year old dogs are suddenly again jumping around like puppies. Indeed, Arthritis is the typical condition when vets recommend the administration of this joint health supplement.
Since there are no known side effects, many dog owners even give Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM to their yet unaffected dog, hoping to avoid Arthritis altogether. However, we are not supportive of this - the avoidance measures mentioned above seem more appropriate than to leave you with the thought "Exercise and diet are less important now since I give my dog this joint health supplement". No, I would argue that regular exercise, a healthy diet, playtime together etc are more important!
In the earlier stages of Arthritis, an alternative (or addition) to medication and food supplements may be the Back and Hip Support Brace, which can help to give your German Shepherd the mobility it needs to feel good. In the later stages of Arthritis though the Walkabout Rear Harness may be needed. The Walkabout Rear Harness has the same aim as the Bottoms-up Leash, but it is technically a better solution because the harness stays on while the leash falls off.
Although Hip Dysplasia (see 2) is finally declining, it is still common among German Shepherds. Hip Dysplasia promotes Arthritis too. Hence, here you have another reason why you should ensure that you get your (next) German Shepherd from a reputable breeder who tests both dam and sire for dysplasia (and other hereditary ailments) before undertaking the breeding venture!
In Germany, the place of origin of German Shepherds, this is a legal requirement, but not so in every other country where GSDs are popular too. In the end, for a breeder, all testing for (hereditary and non-hereditary) ailments comes down to economics: As long as even seemingly 'professional' breeders are able to sell yet another GSD at a profit despite having known health issues, some of them will do it - which means another GSD pregnancy that shouldn't be.