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Arthritis - Degenerative Joint Disease (Osteoarthritis)

Arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints, where the cartilage overlying the bone becomes rough instead of smooth and movement of the joint becomes difficult and painful. The fibrous capsule surrounding the joint becomes thickened and restricts the amount of movement the joint can make. New pieces of bone called osteophytes can grow on the damaged surface, further restricting movement. The joints may make clicking or crunching noises when the dog walks, and the joints may also be swollen.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is often noticed when a dog becomes lame. This is easier to spot when only one joint is affected because there will often be a visible limp in the dogs stride. If more than one joint is affected the dog may just walk more carefully and slowly or may just become less active altogether. One of the most classic signs of osteoarthritic conditions is that the animal will be very stiff after rest or sleep but will improve once they start to move. Other signs maybe difficulty jumping into the car or onto the sofa!

Description: C:\Users\James Cadwallader\Pictures\Web pics\OA cat.jpg
An Arthritic Elbow Joint

Cats and other species can also be affected by OA. Clinical signs in a cat are similar to dogs with difficulty jumping onto your lap or the furniture. The cats maybe sleeping more - especially in one place or stiffening up, they may have a matted or scurfy coat due to difficulties grooming and finally be less tolerant around people avoiding fuss and attention.

A vet would examine your pet for signs of arthritis if it is suspected and can diagnose it without x-rays, however further tests are often need for confirmation or to rule other causes out.

We manipulate the joints gently to check for swellings, heat, evidence of pain, range of movement and crepitus (a grating feeling when the joint is manipulated).

Sometimes it is necessary to take an x-ray to find out what is going on in the joints, although often the extent of damage seen on an x-ray does not correlate with the signs of pain expressed by the animal! Occasionally it is necessary to take a sample of the fluid within the joint to check for infection.

Description: heat therapy and arthritis
Arthritic Hips in a Dog

Once the diagnosis has been made, a treatment regime will be started

Management of Arthritis
There are three main ways to minimize the aches and pains.

1) Weight control. If a dog is overweight or obese this puts added stress on the joints.
This stress causes a higher level of joint damage, and consequently more severe arthritis this coupled with the reduced exercise can lead to more weight gain and a terrible downward spiral.
The first line of management of arthritis may be to use special diets to help a dog lose weight and so to minimize further joint damage.

2) Exercise regime. Moderate exercise helps to keep stiff joints supple and mobile. The exact exercise requirements depend on the individual dog, but in general, the motto is ‘little and often’. This means 15 – 20 minutes twice a day rather than one long 40 minute hike every morning. Other physical therapies, such as hydrotherapy and physiotherapy are also now used to help affected dogs.

3) Medication. Modern veterinary science has a number of different drugs which help to ease arthritis by relieving pain and improving the function of the joints. There are three different groups of drugs in common use.

a) Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). This long-winded name describes a group of drugs which reduce the inflammation of damaged joints, and also provide pain relief. NSAIDs may be in the form of tablets, or liquids, and often a daily dose is all that is needed to transform an old dog’s quality of life.
A blood sample to check liver and kidney function may be taken to check that it is safe for the medication to be prescribed.
Many human anti-arthritis drugs can cause serious or even fatal results in dogs, so owners must always follow the guidance given by their vet.

b) Glucocorticoids (commonly known as ’steroids’ or ‘cortisone’). These drugs can provide a higher level of anti-inflammatory effect than NSAIDs, but with more obvious and serious side effects in the long term.

c) Cartilage sparing and stimulating drugs. This new group of drugs is thought to work by directly protecting the cartilage of the joints, and by promoting healing of damaged cartilage. They do not seem to be effective in every case, but are often worth trying. Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate can also provide help with the health of the joints.

With a combination of these therapies and daily routines it is possible for dog to live with arthritis with an excellent quality of life for some time!



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“I am a small animal clinician concentrating on looking after your pets rather than trying to care for all species. I am helped by a team of qualified, experienced veterinary nurses to care and attend to your pets' veterinary care, health and happiness!”

James Cadwallader BVSc MRCVS - Proprietor Number 1 Vets

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