Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease whereby pain and stiffness develop as a result of wear and tear to the joints involved.
In the normal joint, the bone surfaces, which meet and rub together, are covered by a thin layer of cartilage – an elastic substance acting as a self-repairing, shock absorbing layer.
The moving parts of the joint are encased within a capsule filled with synovial fluid, which acts as a lubricant. Wear and tear, which occurs throughout life, may reach a stage where areas of the cartilage become worn, exposing the underlying bone and leading to pain and/or impaired movement.
Your dog’s hips, knees and elbows are the most susceptible joints. In some individuals and certain breeds, abnormal wear can start quite early in life. This may be the result of injury or an inherited condition.
When old age becomes a pain:
As we all know, getting about can become difficult with age and may become associated with considerable pain. Like humans, many dogs which have arthritic joints suffer in this way, but, because they are often much more stoical than we are, they seldom complain.
If your dog is to live life to the full, in spite of increasing pain and stiffness, you need to look out for the clues which may help to identify potential problems early, so that you can take necessary action as quickly as possible. Early action means treatment will be more successful and your dog will be comfortable for longer.
Here are some of the signs that suggest your dog may be in pain:
- Licking or self injury
- Reluctance to walk or play
- Difficulty in getting up
- Difficulty in climbing stairs/jumping into car/chair
- Limping or stiffness
- Change in character or aggression
- Reduced interaction with people
- Reduced appetite
- Increase in anxiety/clinging, etc
Often, regular gentle exercise helps to maintain mobility, as joints that do not have regular movement may stiffen up, meaning your dog becomes less and less active. Your dog may still be keen to chase a ball, but it may be better to avoid such energetic activities. Frequent gentle walks may be of more benefit.
Hydrotherapy is an increasingly popular complementary therapy for dogs with osteoarthritis. It involves purpose-built pools that allow safe, controlled swimming for your dog. Swimming helps build up muscle mass which will support the joint. It is a ‘low impact’ exercise so won’t aggravate joint pain. Speak to us about the correct type and level of exercise for your dog. We also have contact details of hydrotherapy pools in the area. Some insurance companies cover hydrotherapy.
Joint problems are aggravated by excess weight. Carrying excess weight causes both additional pain and increases damage to the joint. There have been studies done that have shown slim dogs to live longer than overweight dogs. Ask us if you think your pet is overweight, we can offer free weight clinics with our nurses.
In younger animals, exercise plays a big part in controlling weight. This is more difficult in older dogs with arthritis as we usually advise limited exercise. This means that a reduction in food intake is often necessary, talk to us about how our nurses can help with a nutritional plan for your pet.
Treatment of the older dog is aimed at reducing pain and stiffness so improving quality of life. As in humans, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are now commonly used to achieve this, since they reduce the formation of substances in the body which give rise to both pain and inflammation. Early intervention is important to reduce the likelihood of more severe pain developing.
Remember that arthritis is a progressive disease and regular reassessment by your veterinary practice is essential to ensure that your pet is receiving the best possible care. As part of this assessment we might suggest blood testing to monitor liver and kidney function amongst others. This is important, as we might need to adjust the treatment accordingly once we have those results.
Supplementary therapies include such things as nutritional supplements, acupuncture, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy (mentioned above).
These are becoming more popular and more common.
When choosing a physiotherapist make sure he/she is a chartered animal physiotherapist which means that they have had the training and have a governing body.
We can also give you details of acupuncturists.
There is a wide range of nutritional supplements (nutraceuticals) now that may help to support the normal function of your dog’s joints. In the UK, vitamins, minerals, supplements and a variety of related nutritional products including nutraceuticals fall into 2 categories, licensed and unlicensed preparations. Licensed products are assessed for safety, efficacy and quality in accordance with legislation.
Unlicensed products do not allow for medicinal claims but can claim for health maintenance. The current regulatory position still has not really clarified the situation very much for the consumer. The same ingredients can still be found in licensed and unlicensed products. The key difference is that licensed products have therapeutic indications and may make claims as such, having had to provide a dossier of evidence to support efficacy, quality and safety claims.