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Arthritis In Pets Disclaimer

Does your pet have trouble getting up in the morning and seem a bit stiff? Unfortunately, arthritis can be a real pain in the neck.... hip, elbow or back.

Don't assume that this is a normal 'old age thing' and that nothing can be done.

The truth is that old pets with arthritis have a new lease on life if treated properly and there is no reason to allow your dog to suffer the pain of 'old bones'.

What is arthritis?   Top
Arthritis refers to a disorder of the joint. It can have many causes, including infection, immune system disorders, cancer and trauma, but commonly refers to the degenerative changes occurring in joints. A more correct name is Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis.

Degenerative Joint Disease refers to damage to the joint cartilage and adjacent bone caused by abnormal stresses on the joint. These stresses are due to an abnormality in the joint which may be inherited, such as Hip Dysplasia, or caused by trauma, such as an accident or years of wear and tear on hard-working joints.

DJD is a chronic, progressive disorder characterised by cartilage damage, proliferation of new bone, and thickening of the joint capsule.

What are the signs of arthritis?   Top
Pain, stiffness, reluctance to exercise or to perform normal manoeuvres such as jumping into the car or climbing the stairs are common signs of arthritis. Affected pets often have difficulty rising after resting. Cold and/or damp weather may appear to make symptoms worse.

The lameness or gait abnormality may be intermittent, aggravated by periods of exercise, or may disappear as the dog 'warms up'.

Sometimes signs may be more subtle, such as licking or biting of joints (due to pain) or a change in personality e.g. less happy or playful, not wanting to chase the ball or sometimes aggressive and irritable.

Affected cats have problems grooming themselves and look untidy. They walk with little quick back leg movements and often have difficulty using their litter tray accurately as they cannot squat when toileting. They may also be unable to jump up on the couch anymore and tend to sleep on the floor instead.

How is arthritis diagnosed?   Top
A history of the problem is combined with a physical examination to determine the range of movement in a joint, any joint thickening or crepitus (a crunching/crackling feeling while manipulating the joint) and the degree of pain.

X-rays show the amount of new bone production, bone remodelling and other changes adjacent to the joint, narrowing of the joint space, and sometimes increased amounts of joint fluid.

It may be advised to sample the joint fluid to rule out other causes of joint pain such as infection, and immune-mediated problems, as these have specific treatments.

What treatments are available for arthritis?   Top
The treatment depends on many factors including the underlying cause, the age of the dog, degree of bony changes present, and amount of pain and disability the condition is causing.

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery - to correct underlying deformities, to stabilise joints affected by ligament ruptures, or to alleviate discomfort. The success of surgery depends on the condition being treated and the amount of degenerative changes already present. Surgery may also be indicated in some severe cases such as to remove the hip (Femoral Head and Neck excision), replace the hip or fuse the affected joint (arthrodesis).
  • Stem Cell Therapy - AdiCell is a preparation using stem cells purified from a sample of your dog's own fat cells. AdiCell is then injected into an arthritic joint, such as a hip or knee. With the healthy cells, your dog's natural regeneration system goes to work to restore the joint.
  • Analgesic anti-inflammatories - non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief. There are several safe, very effective NSAIDs formulated for animals that can be prescribed by your vet. Please do not give your pet human NSAID medications such as panadol, aspirin or nurofen as they are potentially toxic with side effects including gastrointestinal upsets and ulcers, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, blood abnormalities, kidney and liver failure.
  • Chondroprotective agents – medications that both stimulate cartilage repair and inhibit ongoing cartilage damage by inhibiting various destructive enzymes and prostaglandins found in arthritic joints. These drugs may also help by increasing the production of normal compounds within the joint which act as lubricants and protectants/strengtheners for the cartilage surface. Chondroitin and glucosamine are two common nutritional supplements that are useful in arthritis as they assist in rebuilding the cartilage of the joint surface and can be found in a variety of products, as well as in 'joint formula' commercial pet foods.
  • Diet – obesity is a strong contributory factor, so weight reduction is essential to reduce stress on the joints.
  • Exercise modification – gentle on-lead exercise without periods of free running. Swimming is also a good exercise for dogs with arthritis as it strengthens the muscles and ligaments surrounding joints without the stresses of weight-bearing exercise.
  • Soft Bedding - arthritis symptoms are always worse in the winter months so make sure your dog has a nice comfortable bed in a warm and easy to access place. Use ramps in place of stairs. Cats may need their bed in a less elevated position and consider a larger litter tray with low sides or cut out at the front so it can enter easily.
  • Contact your local veterinarian for advice about your pet's condition. There are many different treatment options available and your vet can help you decide which treatment or combination will be most effective. Your old friend need not suffer the pain of arthritis any more.

    Dr Julia Adams BVSc

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