Just like humans, many pets experience the aches and pains of arthritis. Although arthritis typically affects older animals, it can develop at any age, especially if a degenerative disease or an injury causes joint damage.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis, also called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, is inflammation involving one or more of the joints in your pet’s body. A joint—where two bones meet—is lined with articular cartilage that helps cushion and protect the ends of the bones. Arthritis causes degeneration of the cartilage, leaving the underlying bone susceptible to damage. Trauma through wear and tear of the exposed bone by normal activity leads to swelling, pain, and stiffness.
What are the signs of arthritis?
Pets with arthritis might exhibit:
- Decreased activity
- Lameness, or limping, especially after activity
- Reluctance to rise from a lying or sitting position
- Reluctance to jump up or down from the car, furniture, etc.
- Stiffness after waking up
- Avoiding being touched or petted in painful areas
- Change in attitude; pets may become depressed or grumpy
- Difficulty getting in and out of the litter box, often causing accidents in the house
Many signs associated with arthritis can be mistaken by pet owners as normal aging changes. But, your pet does not have to live in pain. If your pet is showing any of these signs, call our office to schedule an appointment so we can determine if she has arthritis.
Why does arthritis develop?
There are a number of possible causes of arthritis in pets. The most common include:
- Hereditary conditions — Genetic diseases, such as hip dysplasia, cause damage to joints, setting the stage for arthritis.
- Injury — Trauma, such as that caused by a broken bone or a torn ACL ligament, can lead to the development of arthritis. Even if the initial injury may heal, if joint surfaces were involved, cartilage can slowly deteriorate, leading to arthritis later in life.
- Obesity — Increased weight on joints automatically predisposes an animal to arthritis. When obesity is added to other risk factors that may be present, the development of degenerative joint disease becomes unavoidable. Since obesity is a growing problem in dogs and cats, arthritis has also become more prevalent.
How is arthritis in pets diagnosed?
Arthritis can usually be diagnosed during a routine office visit. During the exam, your veterinarian will evaluate your pet’s mobility and range of motion. Affected joints will be examined for signs of swelling, stiffness, and pain. If it seems that one or more joints may be affected, our team may recommend X-rays to get a clear image of the bones comprising the joints as well as the joint surfaces.
How is arthritis treated?
Treatment for arthritis includes therapies that reduce joint stress, decrease inflammation, increase mobility, and prevent pain:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to treat and prevent the inflammation associated with arthritis. There are many NSAIDs available, and our veterinarians can prescribe the right pet-safe anti-inflammatory to keep your companion comfortable. Never try to treat your pet’s arthritis on your own, as many human anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen, are toxic to pets.
- Chondroprotectants are neutraceuticals (nutritional products), such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, help to repair damaged cartilage. Although these medications will not cure arthritis, they can help minimize the damage caused by it.
- Analgesics are drugs that reduce the pain caused by arthritis, which is responsible for most of the clinical signs observed. If pain is reduced or eliminated, pets often become more mobile and active.
- If your pet is overweight, weight loss will be one of the most important components of treatment. Eliminating extra weight placed on joints can improve signs of arthritis and reduce the need for medications.
- Physical rehabilitation performed by trained veterinary staff can strengthen muscles and increase mobility, improving quality of life.
- Alternate therapies, such as laser therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic manipulation, can be performed by trained staff to reduce severity of symptoms and keep pets pain-free.
How can I prevent arthritis from developing in my pet?
Since many cases of arthritis in dogs are caused by hereditary conditions, do your research before adopting a puppy. If you plan to adopt a breed prone to hip dysplasia, ask to see evidence that the parents have had their hip joints evaluated. Responsible breeders should only breed dogs that have been evaluated and are free from signs of hip dysplasia.
After adopting a pet, the most important thing you can do to decrease the likelihood of arthritis is help her maintain a healthy weight. Feed a high-quality food in the proper amount and provide plenty of opportunities for exercise to keep your pet lean. If you think your pet may be overweight, make an appointment to speak with your veterinarian about weight loss to decrease her chances of developing arthritis later in life.
Is your pet showing signs of arthritis? Does she need help to maintain a healthy weight? Call us at 512-696-3980.