Inflammation within the joints, osteoarthritis, is common in dogs and cats with about 20% of dogs suffering the effects and 64% of cats, 12 years or older, having changes on x-rays consistent with osteoarthritis. It is a slowly evolving disease with development of joint pain, stiffness and limitation of motion. The most common cause is abnormal stresses on normal cartilage. Even tiny imperfections in the joints can lead to mechanical breakdowns and the resultant inflammation. The progression of the disease can be affected by body weight, amount of exercise & genetic influences.
The first symptom in dogs is loss of normal performance followed by stiffness after rest that usually lasts only a few minutes. Next, quality of life is affected – decreased exercise tolerance, not getting in or out of the car without help and decreased activity. These problems are frequently blamed on the pet’s increasing age. Progressive disease leads to lameness of a sudden or slow development. In some dogs there may be behavioral effects of joint discomfort including nervousness, aggression, depression and loss of appetite. In cats the first symptoms may include reluctance or refusal to jump up onto surfaces usually frequented, not wanting to go up/down stairs and reluctance to be held or petted, alteration in grooming and seeking seclusion.
There is no cure for osteoarthrosis but rather the progressive condition is “managed.” In dogs the therapy goals are influenced by the severity of the symptoms, the intended activity, age and size and any concurrent disease or drug therapy that may interfere with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
The most important treatment in overweight pets is weight loss. Obese dogs and cats can become free of symptoms once they have achieved ideal body weight or managed with lower dosages of pain relieving and anti-inflammatory medications.
Moderate exercise including leash walking and swimming reduces inflammation and maintains good muscle strength to stabilize joints. For cats distributing small amounts of food throughout the house encourages exercise.
The mainstay of medical treatment is non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which block the inflammatory effects of prostaglandins, the body’s pro-inflammatory mediators. NSAIDs should be used continuously and not “as needed” as long–term continuous use results in progressively reduced pain and increased function. Pain relieving medications are typically used also, especially if a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug alone is not adequate.
Regenerative medical treatments such as platelet rich plasma which contains growth factors are without proven benefits at this time but is an option if there is no response to other treatments. For older dogs, steroid injections into arthritic joints is an option when other therapies are inadequate.
Nutritional supplements alone are not effective but can provide additional benefits. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can prevent inflammatory and cartilage degradation processes. Scientific support for the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin is insufficient.For most dogs and cats symptoms associated with osteoarthrosis can be relieved with weight loss if needed, exercise in moderation and pharmaceuticals. Your veterinarian can help with catching early signs of this disease and guiding you with preventative treatment and therapies to delay progression of arthritis and if needed medications to relieve the debilitating pain associated with osteoarthritis.