As our pets age, normal and abnormal wear and tear within their joints can start taking its toll. Cartlidge within the joints start to wear thin and it causes inflammation. Once inflammation is present our pets suffer from arthritis.
Arthritis is a progressive disease which means that over time it gets worse. Inflammation will lead to further break down of cartilage and then bone growths (osteophytes) can develop. This creates rough joint surfaces and leads to ongoing pain and lameness and eventually limb disuse with muscle wastage.
Your veterinarian will rely on the following to diagnose osteoarthritis.
- a dog’s pain response to the movement of their joints.
- detection of crepitus (a crackling or grating sensation felt within the joint).
- observation of abnormal gait.
- presence of muscle wastage (atrophy) to diagnose osteoarthritis.
Once extra bony growths are present, osteoarthritis becomes detectable on radiograph. Often this diagnostic tool is used to confirm arthritis after it was diagnosed upon physical exam. Not all dogs—even those with significant arthritis—vocalise when they’re in pain, but a dog whose muscles are atrophied and limbs are stiff, who requires assistance to rise, and does little more than venture outside to go to the toilet is without question suffering pain.
It is important to note that it’s not only older animals suffering from this painful condition. Younger animals can too due to traumatic injury to a joint or genetic predisposition or rare auto immune diseases.
In an ideal world, all dogs would start life with genetically sound conformation and joints. For purebreds, the importance of responsible breeding and the use of screening tests to evaluate hip and elbow conformation of prospective breeding animals is extremely important. Regardless of a dog’s origin, feeding a high-quality diet throughout life and maintaining an optimal body weight is also crucial. If your pet is overweight, a healthy weight reduction plan should be implemented immediately.
Ways to help keep your pet comfortable.
Around the house:
Provide well-padded bedding away from cold or damp drafts. (This will also help prevent the development of pressure-sores.) Carpeted or padded steps or a ramp to get on and off the bed or couch are great ideas. Non-slip flooring wherever surfaces are slippery is also very helpful. Outside, your dog may find a gently sloped ramp easier to negotiate than steps.
Joint supplements are available to promote healthy cartilage and joint environment. These contain varying combinations of glucosamine, chondroitin, green-lipped mussel and other chondroprotective substances.
This decision is best made with your veterinarian, taking into consideration factors such as diet and genetics/conformation (e.g., has a dog been diagnosed early on with hip or other joint abnormalities?). The anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids are also of help in animals with arthritis. These are included in some canine arthritis diets.
Maintaining mobility through reasonable exercise is important regardless of a dog’s age and the extent of their arthritis. A dog with mild, early arthritis can and should get more exercise than an older dog with severe arthritis. Non-weight bearing exercise, like swimming is excellent if not contraindicated by other medical conditions.
When it comes to medication, there are several options your vet may discuss with you.
- Pentosan injections are a great option as part of joint treatment. It aims to change the joint environment to promote healthier cartilage development, the production of thicker joint fluid and reducing enzymes that causes the progression of arthritis.
- Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) may also be considered. While these drugs are highly effective at reducing inflammation and pain, they also come with side effects and in some cases due to other medical issues they may not be suitable for use. Blood testing should be done prior to using anti-inflammatories to confirm normal liver and kidney function. These tests should be repeated at regular intervals to confirm that the NSAID are being tolerated by the body.
- Gabapentin may also be used in conjunction with other medications as its targets the nervous system, altering the transmission and strength of pain signals. This aspect makes it a good choice as part of a treatment plan for chronic pain.
Please do not hesitate to contact our vets if you have any concerns regarding your pets health.