Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that can be quite painful, making movement difficult. Most of the joints in the body depend on a layer of cartilage acting as a cushion which also provides a smooth surface so the adjoining bones can move freely over each other. With arthritis, the cartilage deteriorates so that movement of the bones becomes less smooth.
It is estimated that 20% of all dogs over the age of one year have some degree of osteoarthritis. This is usually a result of wear and tear on the joint cartilage but can be secondary to underlying problems such as hip dysplasia (a genetic disease where there is an abnormal shallowing of the hip socket) and luxating patellae (dislocating kneecaps). Both of theseare common inherited conditions.
Signs that indicate your dog could have arthritis include:
reluctance to play
difficulty getting up, climbing stairs or jumping up or down
limping or stiffness in the legs
repeatedly licking at a joint
yelping in pain when touched
Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that cannot be cured medically. There are however many things you can do to help control and slow its progress. These areas include weight control, exercise, medication, massage and environment.
Obesity can contribute to arthritis, as the joint must carry a greater load than that for which it was designed. It is therefore imperative that you keep yourdog’s weight under control.
Although a pet of normal weight may have OA in one joint as a result of past trauma, the majority of pets have OA in multiple joints as a result of increased body fat. Pets are considered obese if they are 20-30% over their ideal weight.
Exercise can strengthen the muscles and ligaments, thus reducing the risk of injury. Controlled exercise such as leash walking and swimming helps maintain muscle bulk without putting the joints under excessive strain.
See your vet for advice on appropriate medications such as anti-inflammatories and chondroprotective agents. These can be administered as pills, liquids or as an injection. Never administer human anti-inflammatories to animals as some of them have serious (or even fatal) side effects.
Massage can increase flexibility and circulation. Massaging around the affected joints helps, as does a range of passive movement exercises. These involve gently bending the joint to its point of maximum flexion and extension.
During winter, pets need extra care. Make sure they have a warm protected bed, away from winter chills and rain. The bed should be padded so as not to put excess strain on the joints.
To determine whether your dog has OA, it is best to make an appointment with your vet for a full physical examination and assessment. This is important to ensure a proper diagnosis of osteoarthritis is made, as other conditions can mimic this condition. Your vet will be able to discuss the various treatments available and the best treatment options for your dog.