By Dr John Rand, D.V.M. –
Arthritis is a very common and complex condition in pets that involves inflammation of one or more joints. Many causes exist, from immune mediated attacks on the joints (rheumatoid arthritis), to infectious causes (septic arthritis). By far the most common cause among our pets, however, is osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), and is the most common cause of chronic pain in our pets. Not just dogs develop arthritis, either. A recent study found that around 90% of cats over twelve years of age had significant arthritis.
Osteoarthritis usually begins in relatively young animals, though the clinical signs might not show up for some time later. Many joints can be affected; shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and backs are all commonly afflicted. Typically owners will notice a general reluctance to move, stiffness, difficulty getting up, and lameness after periods of exercise. Owners usually also note that, once up, their dog seems to “warm out” of the stiffness. Signs in cats often manifest themselves as difficulty grooming, inappropriate urination or defecation, acting aggressive when handled, jumping less, and lameness.
Damage to the cartilage overlying the ends of bones (trauma), excessive weight (obesity), and joint incongruity (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, etc.), place improper stresses on the abnormal joints. The bones try to correct these instabilities by growing denser, thicker, and with tiny bone spurs (osteophytes) at the joints. Pain and inflammation ensue, weakening the joint further, and perpetuating the progression of the OA. These changes are permanent. So, minimizing and slowing this progressive degeneration is the goal for treatment.
Weight management cannot be understated. As pet owners we should strive to keep our pets at a healthy weight. If your pet has arthritis, weight loss should be at the top of your to-do list. For the most part, pets do not go grocery shopping, they cannot open cabinets, and they do not fix themselves dinner. Their weight is one of the only aspects of their health that owners have complete control over. With few exceptions, if your pet is fat, you can fix it.
Rest and exercise restriction are immensely important when your pet has a flare up. Continuing to allow running, jumping, and climbing will perpetuate the inflammation and speed joint damage.
In addition to weight loss and exercise restriction, many medications will dramatically improve your pet’s quality of life. A MULTI-MODAL approach to pain management is KEY. This means that combining several of the following medications will give much better results than any one therapy.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are the mainstay and powerhouse of the fight against pain and inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis. This class of drugs quickly suppresses the inflammatory chemicals that cause not only pain, but also the cartilage breakdown. A cat is not a dog, and neither of them is human. Tremendously different and deadly results can be seen when owners try to treat their pets with their own medications. Never use a human medication on your pets without specific directions from your veterinarian.
Additional analgesics include Tramadol, Gabapentin, and Amantadine. Used in combination with NSAIDs, these medications will increase your pet’s pain relief while being able to lower the doses of each medication, and, thus, their side effects. The use of these medications has often been overlooked, but is now very well established.
Diets containing glucosamine/chondroitin and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids help repair cartilage and reduce inflammatory proteins, respectively. Other neutraceuticals of notable benefit include MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), antioxidants (Vitamins C and E), and Adequan, an injectable cartilage component. Acupuncture, massage, and physical therapy are also very safe methods that can be employed long term.
Osteoarthritis is an exceptionally common and unquestionably painful condition in our pets. The best recommendations involve employing many methods to stave off its progression. Monitoring your animals for signs of arthritis, and discussing options will your veterinarian will help to ensure the best quality of life for your pets.
The Animal Clinic