Arthritis

A review

Arthritis

Arthritis means inflammation of the joint. It is not a diagnosis as such as there can be many causes

  • General wear and tear throughout life - the most common reason
  • Persistent/recurrent trauma eg. in cases of luxating knee caps
  • Broken limbs especially involving the joints eg. hip fractures
  • Ligament trauma when left untreated eg. anterior cruciate is the most common reason here
  • Infections (eg. cat bite wound into a joint
  • Tumours
  • Congenital/developmental deformities eg. hip dysplasia is the most common
  • Problems with the immune system eg. rheumatoid arthritis, this is uncommon in companion animals

How do I know if my dog is suffering from osteoarthritis

Obviously the best way is to allow a veterinary surgeon to examine the dog, but there are signs for you to look out for Arthritis

Usually present as chronic lameness, one that tends to develop slowly and worsens with time

Often

  • The animal is stiff on rising
  • Reluctant to jump up/down, use steps etc
  • It warms out of its lameness i.e. improves if exercised
  • Is worse in wet and/or cold weather
  • More subtle features your vet may detect are
  • Thickening of a joint
  • Increased limitations on extent of normal movement
  • Resentment of joint manipulation

What can we do

For a long time the mainstay of osteoarthritic treatment has been Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAID's). * These drugs offer pain relief and counteract joint inflammation. Over the years these drugs have continually been improved and can be very effective and safe. The aim is to find the minimal effective regime of dosing. So this may mean 1-2 weeks with treatment and stop until the problem returns. The drugs may only be required during the winter months for example

  • Over the past few years a new range of very effective veterinary specific drugs have appeared. These drugs improve joint fluid attributes, and protect the cartilage of joints. In other words they tune up the animal's suspension, in a way it oils the joints! They work so well that many vets have extended their use to cats and the drug is now being trialed in humans
  • Steroids. As vets, we try to reduce our patients dependence on this drug, so for long term therapy, it is not our first choice. However, sometimes it is the only drug that works! (eg. auto-immune disease). In cats, that show much fewer side effects with steroids, long acting injections can work well, eliminating the need for daily dosing
  • Special drugs for autoimmune disease, such as gold salts! The mode of action is unknown and the results vary a great deal. Probably the most common use is in rheumatoid arthritis
  • Surgery. In certain cases this could be the best possible solution for a pain free pet. For example femoral head excision in cats with severe hip osteoarthritis, hip replacement in young dogs with severe hip dysplasia
  • Alternative medicine. For example acupuncture has been used in many cases

Treatment Methods

There are now a wide range of treatment options. I always like clients to realise that 50% of the treatment is in their hands (management) and 50% is ours -medicines

What you can do

A few simple things can make a great difference

  • Reduce exercise. A lot of clients think that exercise helps. The evidence for this is that when exercised the animal seems to loosen up. However the truth of the matter is that an animal will suffer tomorrow for any excess exercise they do today! Reduction does not mean cease exercising. For many dogs, life = walks and food! So we obviously want to maintain quality of life. Cut out any vigorous exercise. Walk on a lead. Short walks are essential
  • A large number of pets these days are unfortunately overweight. Increased weight bearing on arthritic joints hurts! Weight reduction in these cases can sometimes be the only treatment required. It costs nothing but demands discipline and all the family needs to abide by the rules
  • We have diets that allow dogs to really fill themselves up yet lose weight! So we can make this easy for you. In addition you will be surprised at the new lease of life a pet can get from weight reduction

If you suspect arthritis in your pet then make an appointment to see your vet so they can examine your animal and confirm it