With the run of damp weather we’ve been having, my knee keeps reminding me of all the tennis I played back in high school. Years of stops, starts and sharp turns were fine at sixteen but they took a toll that has come back to haunt me as I get older. Our pets also can suffer the ravages arthritis creates in the joints.
Arthritis means inflammation of the joint. Simple wear and tear can start to break down the cartilage that protects the ends of the bone. When it is gone, the bone rubs on bone which creates a lot of irritation. The body responds by laying down new bone but this bone is not smooth. Instead, it is rather bumpy and jagged. Sometimes a piece actually breaks off and becomes loose in the joint — this is called a joint mouse. The thick fluid inside the joint that helps to lubricate it also becomes very thin and watery, rather like old oil in an engine losing its viscosity. The net result of this is a joint that does not move as freely or with the same range of motion and is often painful. The hips, knees (stifle), shoulders and elbows are often affected and less frequently the ankles (hock) and wrists (carpus).
Dogs with arthritis often have difficulty getting up, particularly on slippery surfaces. As they walk, they may start by being stiff for a few steps, but that gradually gets worse. Negotiating stairs and getting on and off the bed or in and out of the car becomes difficult to impossible. In cats, the primary sign is often reluctance to jump up. A cat whose favorite spot used to be in a window may no longer hang out there because he can’t get up into it anymore.
There are many risk factors involved with arthritis. Larger breeds of dogs are particularly prone to arthritis. Simply having more body mass puts more strain on the joints. Many of these breeds are also genetically predisposed to arthritic and dysplastic changes. Shetland Sheepdogs, although not a large breed, are quite prone to arthritis as well. Previous injuries that have affected the joint such as a cranial cruciate ligament rupture or fracture can lead to arthritis down the road. Less commonly, there are infectious forms of arthritis as well.
Although you can’t control those factors, there is one major thing you can control. The number one way to prevent arthritis is to not allow your pet to become overweight. Obesity greatly increases the development of arthritis. In fact, just getting a pet to lose weight can often greatly reduce their dependency on medications to control the inflammation and pain.
There are many types of drugs and supplements used to manage arthritis and the associated pain. The mainstay of pain control are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx and Previcox are all in this class. They do not directly make the joint better; rather, they reduce the inflammation and pain so the pet feels better. This will also enable him to move better, which in turn helps keep his weight down, reduces muscle atrophy and improves his overall quality of life. Joint supplements such as chondroitin/glucosamine/MSM give pets the raw ingredients to make better cartilage and improve the joint itself. Adequan is an injection given twice weekly over the course of a month that also helps to improve the joint. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation. Acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation and therapeutic lasers have also been used as treatment modalities with varying success. Often multiple different methods are used together. Just like with people, we can’t turn back the clock (and I can’t erase those endless hours I spent on the courts), but we can develop a plan to give your pet the best quality of life possible.