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October 17, 2023

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Arthritis in Your Pet

Approximately 25% of dogs are diagnosed with arthritis and many more are likely affected. Arthritis is also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD). It is a degenerative, progressive, and irreversible condition of the joints. 

Degenerative joint disorders are probably as common in cats but are less likely to be associated with obvious symptoms, such as lameness. In one study, 90 percent of cats over 12 years of age had radiographic signs of osteoarthritis.

Arthritis is classified as primary or secondary. Primary arthritis is associated with aging, due to years of wear and tear on the joints. Secondary arthritis is the result of an external event or force (e.g., trauma, poor joint alignment, etc.) that once damaged the joint cartilage.

Arthritis can affect any age, sex, and breed of dog and cat. 

Symptoms in Dogs
Lameness or limping is the most common sign. It may happen once in a while (episodic) progressive (gets worse over time), or be persistent. Stiffness is common after periods of rest. Stiffness and lameness may decrease when the dog warms up a bit with some activity. Lameness often gets worse after periods of overexertion. Pain, swelling, and decreased range of motion may be seen. Thickened joints, excess fluid in the joint space, and muscle weakening are likely to occur.

Symptoms in Cats
As opposed to the visible lameness seen commonly in dogs, many cats simply become less active, have a decreased ability to jump on or off of objects, may hide, or develop behavioral changes, such as irritability, decreased grooming, or difficulty getting into position in the litterbox. Cats also may have joint swelling/thickening, too much fluid in the joint space, and decreased range of motion. There may or may not be pain when the cat’s affected joint is moved by you or your veterinarian.

Diagnostic Imaging
Radiographs (X-rays) and CT scans may show the excess fluid in the joints; the bony spurs; signs of an underlying disorder, such as elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, or cruciate ligament rupture.

Treatment, Management, and Prevention

It is not possible to cure arthritis.

The goals are to alleviate your pet’s discomfort, to minimize further degenerative changes to the joint, and to restore the joint’s functionality. Multiple types of treatment are usually necessary to relieve pain, stiffness, and discomfort.

Managing your pet’s weight is important. Excess weight increases stress on the joints and muscles. Daily, low-impact activities, such as walking and swimming, will not only help your pet with losing some weight but can also improve joint mobility, muscle mass, and exercise tolerance.

Joint supplements known as chondroprotective agents will help support the cartilage and will have some anti-inflammatory effects. These agents will slow the breakdown of cartilage and/or provide the building blocks that can help build it. Some agents also increase joint fluid secretion and thus decrease inflammation. These supplements work best when started early in the disease process as they rely on some cartilage in the joint in order to be effective.

Diets containing omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation. 

NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) are an important component of arthritis therapy in dogs. They help reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis as well as provide pain control to help your pet be more comfortable. 

Analgesics such as gabapentin, tramadol and amantadine may provide pain relief in dogs. They are often used in combination with NSAIDs and joint supplements. 

Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and physical therapy may be beneficial in some canine patients. 

One of the newer treatment options is monoclonal antibody treatment. These are a once monthly injection given under the skin to help reduce factors associated with pain from arthritis. 

Monitoring and Prognosis

Your veterinarian may need to do periodic physical examinations every 6-9 months to monitor your pet’s response to therapy and the progression of the disease. In addition, if your pet is on an NSAID, blood tests including complete blood counts and biochemistry profiles, should be done every 6-9 months to ensure there are no side effects impacting the liver or kidneys.

With therapy and careful monitoring, arthritis can be managed in many dogs and cats, resulting in a good quality of life that you and your pet will appreciate. 

If you’re worried that your pet may be experiencing pain, please contact us so we can examine your pet and discuss a treatment plan.