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Advice From Your Vet
As the weather warms up, our pets have more opportunities to be outside and be active. We want them to enjoy some exercise, but we also need to be prepared to deal with problems that all this activity can cause our arthritic pets. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the medical term referring to a form of chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage, resulting in inflammation and pain. In contrast to humans, osteoarthritis in pets most commonly occurs secondarily due to developmental disease (cranial cruciate ligament tears, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia). The joints most commonly affected are the hip, knees and elbows. Contributing factors to OA include breed/genetics, age, bodyweight, exercise and diet.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include reluctance to exercise, limping and inability to jump. Diagnosis of osteoarthritis can be confirmed through an examination by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will palpate the joint to evaluate for pain and crackling (crepitus). Additionally, X-rays are used to evaluate the joints of concern to determine if there are changes indicative of arthritis.
Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but there are a variety of treatments used to manage the problem. All treatment decisions are made based on the specific needs of the individual patient. Weight control is one of the most important ways to manage osteoarthritis. Overweight dogs or cats place additional force on their joints exacerbating the arthritis. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, keeping your pet active and mobile helps reduce stiffness and discomfort. Modifying this activity, by minimizing concussive activities (running) and replacing with swimming and low-impact activities are crucial.
We recommend joint supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) for pets with or without symptoms of osteoarthritis. There are several excellent veterinary approved products on the market. If supplements alone are not effectively managing the problem, anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to minimize inflammation and manage pain. There are a variety of prescription anti-inflammatories on the market that are safe for your pet. Additionally, your veterinarian may recommend adjunctive pain medications to help if your pet is significantly uncomfortable.
In addition to treatments implemented at home, your veterinarian may consider some treatments that can be performed only by a medical professional. Many veterinarians are now trained in acupuncture to help keep your pet comfortable. Additionally, direct joint injections with steroids or hyaluronic acid can be helpful. For very severe cases of arthritis, there are surgical options available, such as a total hip replacement.
It is important to note that cats are also susceptible to osteoarthritis. Many of the protocols recommended for dogs are suitable for cats as well. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is a progressive disease and continues to worsen with time. The conservative approach can slow down the progression of disease and many pets can live comfortably for years following their diagnosis. Osteoarthritis is important to recognize in your pet to keep them happy and healthy through their senior years!