Osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD) as it is also known, is a progressive,
debilitating disease characterised by inflammation, loss of cartilage and death of cartilage producing cells. OA can occur in any joint but is most commonly seen in the hips and elbows. The disease results in extra, rough bone being laid down within the joint which interferes with the smooth gliding motion of the joint. All this causes pain or discomfort so a pet will try to keep some weight off that leg, shown as a lameness.
- Favouring a limb or holding a leg up
- Difficulty sitting or standing
- Sleeping more
- Pain when touched over an arthritic joint
- Hesitancy to jump, run or climb stairs
- Weight gain
- Decreased activity or less interest in play
- Attitude or behavioural changes
- Being less alert
- Difficulty rising after sleeping
- Muscle wastage around the affected joint(s)
Cats often show very subtle signs of pain or lameness. Quite often the "old" cat which you presume is just "getting on" is actually in pain due to arthritis and their quality of life can be greatly improved by treating the condition. Pay particular attention to any behavioural changes in cats such as – grumpy or aggressive behaviour. You may also notice your cat refusing to jump on the units or their coat becoming dull or matted, this usually occurs because grooming can become uncomfortable. Your pet may require x-rays to confirm the diagnosis of OA.
Some pets develop OA as a primary condition, with no apparent cause but this is uncommon. Most cases are secondary to some other initiating cause or condition. Acute or chronic trauma to the joint(s), nutritional disorders or infections often predispose the animal to OA. The disease is most prevalent in middle-aged to geriatric animals but it may also occur in young dogs who suffer from canine hip dysplasia or following acute trauma (e.g. road traffic accident). Regardless of the cause, the ultimate effect of OA is the same – pain and loss of normal function of the affected joint(s).
The goals of drug therapy for OA are to control pain, increase mobility, slow down the destructive process in the joint and encourage cartilage repair. The drugs most often prescribed to control the pain and reduce inflammation are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Joint supplements such as neutraceuticals containing glucosamine and chondroitin can help preserve the remaining cartilage and slow the progression of the disease but there are still many studies taking place to determine their effectiveness. Pentosan polysulphate (Cartrophen-Vet) is proposed to have anti-inflammatory effects and a modulating effect on the cartilage and membranes within joints. We have found this quite successful along with other treatments.
This is an extremely important factor in preventing or delaying the progression of OA. Overweight animals should be started on a calorie restricted diet under veterinary supervision. Animals which are carrying excess weight have a lot more pressure on their joints causing chronic trauma. Overweight animals with mild OA which subsequently lose the excess weight, may no longer require medication.
All dogs with OA should have some regular exercise except when having an acute flare up of inflammation. The benefits of physical rehabilitation include decreasing pain and discomfort, increasing muscle strength, increasing range of movement in the joints, improving limb function and reducing the need for drugs. High-impact exercise, such as fetching a ball repeatedly should be avoided. Controlled exercise such as lead walks and swimming should be
encouraged. Swimming (hydrotherapy) is an ideal type of exercise as it increases muscle strength in a low-weight bearing environment. Ideally swimming in a purpose built pool which is warm is more beneficial. Some pools are built with a treadmill underneath to aid rehabilitation.
Acupuncture is defined as the insertion of needles into specific points on the body to cause a desired healing effect. This technique has been used in veterinary practice in China to treat certain ailments. Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of conditions and disorders, including muscle and skeletal abnormalities, male and female reproductive problems, and neurological illness, and skin disease. Veterinary acupuncture may help strengthen the immune system, relieve pain, and improve the function of organ systems.
Other treatments for OA are available such as cold therapy, heat therapy, muscle and joint massage, ultrasound and electrical stimulation but their efficacy varies. Owners should always provide their dogs with a soft, comfortable and well-padded sleeping area.