What is Osteoarthritis in Pets?
Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative disease that may affect any joint but is commonly found in a pet’s hip, elbow, shoulder, stifle (knee) , carpus (wrist), hock (ankle) or intervertebral joints (in the spine). It occurs when cartilage in the joint is damaged, either following a traumatic event or with wear and tear that increases in athletic animals, obese animals, or when the joint is congenitally abnormal.
Cartilage decreases joint stress by reducing impact on the ends of the bones in joints, like a gelatinous shock absorber. When cartilage is damaged, a cascade of inflammatory changes occurs, eventually leading to destruction of the cartilage and subsequent damage to the underlying bone. Cartilage contains no nerves – if your pet is showing any signs of pain, the damage and changes in underlying bone have already begun.
Signs of arthritis include:
- Reluctance totake walks of usual length
- Stiffness (thatmay disappear once the pet has ‘warmed up’)
- Difficultyclimbing stairs, climbing in the car, on the bed or a sofa
- Difficultyrising from rest
- Abnormal gait
- Licking of asingle joint
- Actingwithdrawn, spending less time playing with family (which is often misunderstood as a sign of ‘aging’)
- Soreness when touched
- Rarely, aggression when touched or approached
What can I do?
- WeightReduction: Ask your doctor about your pet’s body condition score (BCS), which shouldbe normal (5/9) or slightly underweight (4/9). If your pet isoverweight, discuss a weight loss diet with your veterinarian.
- ControlledExercise: Low-impact exercise is best; swimming or walking through shallow water isideal. Leash walking and controlled jogging are also acceptable.
- Nutraceuticals: Synergistic combinations of nutraceuticals such as glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate contain compounds that support cartilage structure, prevent furtherdeterioration, suppress inflammation, and reduce free radical damage.
- InjectableChondroprotective Agent: Talk to your veterinarian aboutan injectable agent that may also help preserve cartilage in the joints.
- Acupuncture andMassage:Both of these therapies may provide additional non-drug pain control.
Prescription Drugs: Drugs are available that can reduce inflammation and suppress pain in dogs with more advanced disease. Side effects can be minimized by monitoring your dog’s blood work regularly.
M. H. Archer, DVM
Loveland Veterinary House Call