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  • Dr. Aneldi Grundling BVSc

Make your pet’s golden years great: Arthritis Care & Management

What is Osteoarthritis (OA)?

It is a debilitating condition that causes great discomfort to affected dogs and cats. It is the most common skeletal (bone) disease, with over 20% of dogs older than 1 year, being affected. It is also called Degenerative Joint Disease due to its progressive nature, often causing irreversible deterioration and loss of function in the affected joints. It is termed as an acquired condition, in the sense that it only appears after birth. Osteoarthritis can either be categorised as being as a result of ‘normal’ weight bearing on an ‘abnormal’ cartilage surface (Primary OA), or ‘abnormal’ weight bearing on a ‘normal’ cartilage surface (Secondary OA). Primary OA is most commonly seen in older dogs due to long term use and aging. Secondary osteoarthritis is much more prevalent and results due to joint instability or osteochondral (cartilage) defects.

What causes my dog to have OA?

Arthritis can be caused by injury, infection in the joints, immune-mediated components, or developmental malformations such as hip dysplasia.

Inheritable forms (being passed on through generations by genetics) are more likely in large breed dogs such as Rottweilers (elbow dysplasia), Bernese Mountain Dogs (Osteochondrosis Dissecans) and Labrador Retrievers (Hip Dysplasia). Small breed dogs, and certain cat breeds (Devon Rex) are more likely to be affected by patellar luxation in their knee joints. In addition to large breed dogs being more affected, old age and being over-weight are also greatly contributing factors.

What common signs should I look out for in my pet?

Common signs of arthritis in dogs are limping or a stiff gait, difficulty rising, fatigue, weight gain, and being more 'sluggish', especially in cold conditions. As an owner, you may notice they don't display their normal behaviours like jumping on beds or couches, or avoid using stairs in the home. Their appetite may sometimes also decrease due to pain. Their joints may look swollen, with the most commonly affected joints being their knees, hips and elbows.

Cats are more discreet when it comes to showing signs of pain. Cats are characterised to be a prey species, were hiding symptoms of their pain or injury is common. You may notice your cat not jumping onto tables or countertops anymore, becoming less playful, and also grooming less frequently.

How do I get my pet diagnosed?

In order to diagnose arthritis in your pet, your vet will need to do a clinical exam in order to rule out other possible causes of pain, such as infectious- or immune causes, and sometimes even bone-related cancers. Your veterinarian may want to take x-rays to better visualise the affected areas.

Thisimage shows a normal hip joint (A) and various degrees of arthritic changes to the bone (B,C,D)

How will we treat my pet once diagnosed?

Treatment consists of pain management through non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. This will only be for short term use, as long term use may predispose to negative side effects. Products such as Pentosan Polysulphide sodium is used as an extra-label medication, as it improves the Glycosaminoglycan layer found in articular surfaces.

Your vet may initially suggest conservative "cage rest" treatment in conjunction with the abovementioned medication as first line treatment. Cage rest means that your pet should be kept very still and quiet (purpose-built crates are often used) for an extended period of time to aid in healing of inflammatory joint conditions. The period of cage rest may vary from two- to six weeks, depending on your veterinarian’s recommendations. If no improvement is seen, surgical options may be considered.

What else can I give to help with my pet’s condition?

The use of chondroprotective agents such as Omega 3 fatty acids, Glucosamine, Chondroitin and Hyaluronic acid may aid in decreasing inflammation and cartilage degeneration. Obtaining an ideal body weight is pertinent to decrease the severity of arthritis symptoms.

The future of arthritis treatment in animals is also advancing with human medical discoveries. The use of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) has become common practice in human arthritic cases, and will likely become more accessible to the veterinary field in near future.

What can I do to prevent arthritis from happening in my pet?

Prevention is always better than cure, and arthritis is no exception to the rule. Make sure you are buying your pet from a reputable breeder, especially when opting for large breed dogs. Where applicable, ask the breeder for hip or elbow certificates. Ensure proper nutrition from puppy and kitten stages that will enable correct growth. Do not give additional calcium supplements as this can also cause bone deformities. Bear in mind that a pet’s genetics play a role, but can be managed adequately with correct nutrition by a reputable pet food brand.

Does my pet’s weight play a role in managing arthritis?

Obese pets carry excess weight on already compromised joint surfaces, exasperating the condition even further. Keeping your pet active without pain can be managed with mild, non-strenuous walks. Swimming is also an excellent exercise as it places no additional strain on the joints. When playing ball, alter the game to a "roll-and-fetch" strategy, as to make it more manageable for your pet by limiting the jumping involved as with normal fetch.

What food will be best for my arthritic pet?

Hill’s has formulated a diet specifically for pets struggling with arthritic joints. The diet has been fortified with the abovementioned chondroprotective agents, negating the need to buy additional expensive supplements.

Our clinic is currently running a special on joint related issues in collaboration with Hill's pet food. We will be offering a 20% discount on joint-related consults. What is more, is that you will also receive a free bag of Hills j/d diet if your pet is found to be suffering from arthritis.

What you need to do to qualify for the promotion:

- a visit to your favourite veterinarian and a new diagnosis of arthritis

- never tried a bag of j/d before

- your pet must be older than 1 year.

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