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Osteoarthritis Information for Pet Owners

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (arthritis) is a condition that affects pets and pet owners alike, however in pets, unfortunately the condition often goes undiagnosed, particularly in its early stages. In dogs and cats, arthritis is most often caused by a degenerative or developmental disease or by direct injury to a joint, such as a torn ligament. Older animals are more often affected by arthritis, not just because they are old, but because they have had more opportunities for joint damage.

Joints are composed of cartilage and soft connective tissue that serve as shock absorbers between bones and provide a low-friction surface that allows independent motion of adjacent bones. Arthritis results in degeneration of the cartilage or inflammation of the connective tissue. Pain and stiffness develops as a result of wear and tear of the joints.
What are the clinical signs to look out for?

Unfortunately, the majority of cases of arthritis go undiagnosed and untreated due to the lack of awareness of the condition and treatment options. Dogs experience real pain, as do humans with arthritis, but the problem lies in communicating this pain.
Pet owners are best placed to identify the early signs of arthritis as they know their dogs’ personality and can recognise the changes to their normal physical ability.

Signs indicating a dog or cat may be suffering from arthritis include:

  • Reluctance to walk or play
  • Difficulty getting up after resting
  • Difficulty climbing stairs
  • Difficulty in jumping into car or onto a chair
  • Limping or stiffness
  • Change in character or aggression
  • Reduced interaction with people
  • Reduced appetite
  • Increased anxiety
  • Licking or self-injury
  • Going to the toilet inside
  • What treatments are available?

There are many treatment options to relieve arthritis in pets. All of these treatments are registered for use in dogs.

1) Treat the underlying cause of the arthritis

It is very important to diagnose and treat whatever condition may be causing the arthritis, particularly in young animals. Hip and elbow dysplasia and partial rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament are diseases of young animals that need more than just arthritis treatment and (if uncontrolled) can lead to a lifetime of debilitation. In older dogs there can be more sinister reasons for lameness and arthritis such as cancer. Anaesthesia and x-rays are the usual way of diagnosing these problems.

2) Pentosan polysulphate injections (Cartrophen)

A course of 4 weekly injections to provide the building blocks for cartilage regeneration as well as providing some anti-inflammatory relief. Results are usually seen by the 3rd injection. Each course lasts approximately 6 months. This course is often recommended at the start for initial treatment of arthritis. This treatment is registered for use in dogs, but it has been used in cats successfully off-label.

3) Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be used long term or as required for reduction of inflammation involved in arthritis. There are small tablets, chewable treats or a honey-flavoured liquid, making dosing your pet very easy. If your pet requires long term anti-inflammatory therapy, then a blood test will be required in most cases. The veterinary surgeon must perform a physical examination before prescribing any anti-inflammatory drugs.

4) Strong pain killer drugs

Strong pain relief medication, such as Tramadol, has started to be prescribed more commonly as part of an arthritis treatment regime. This can greatly improve the quality of life of your pet and usually they have fewer side effects than the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in sensitive animals.

5) Glucosamine/chondroitin supplements

These nutritional supplements are used commonly in people but now there are products specifically designed for dogs called “Glyde”, “Joint Guard” (neutral flavour) and “Sasha’s Blend” (fishy flavour). These products usually come in a powder form that can be mixed in with food or a treat on a daily basis. This supplement can be given in all stages of arthritis or pre-emptively to maintain good joint health. For severe arthritis, they can be used in conjunction with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (discussed above).

6) Weight loss programme – Hills Science Diet R/D or “Reducing Diet”

Many owners with overweight pets are very frustrated as they are not feeding their pet very much food. However, when arthritis sets in, exercising is more difficult and having an overweight pet exacerbates the problem by putting more pressure on the joints. Weight loss alone in some cases can relieve arthritis. We have had great success with the Hills Science diet R/D, which is a prescription food designed to keep the dog or cat feeling full while losing weight. It is not a complete diet, so after the weight loss is complete, your pet will be placed on a light maintenance diet to maintain a healthy weight. Another new supplement called “Vet-a-Slim” (chewable tablets) is now available to improve weight loss in overweight patients.

7) Prescription diet – Hills Science Diet J/D or “Joint Diet”

There is a great new prescription diet called Hills Science diet J/D for dogs, which promotes healthy joints through the addition of omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine and chondroitin.

8) Regular exercise

Gentle, regular exercise is very helpful for arthritis. It promotes joint movement, the secretion of joint fluid and the flow of nutrients into the joints, all of which slow down the progression of arthritis.

Please phone Gordon Veterinary Hospital on 9498 3000 to discuss any of the above points with a nurse or a veterinary surgeon or to make an appointment for your pet. Alternatively you can email info@gordonvet.com.au

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