Franklin Vets Blog

Arthritis in pets

May 30, 2017

Arthritis is a term that includes all forms of inflammatory disease processes in a joint. The most common form we see is osteoarthritis (OA), with an estimated 20% of adult dogs and over 60% of adult cats suffering from this condition.

In dogs OA almost always occurs secondary to an abnormality (e.g. trauma, cartilage disease, anatomical fault). Obese dogs are significantly more likely to develop OA and to be affected by it than normal weight dogs. In cats, often no initiating cause can be found. It is more common and more severe in older pets.

A key feature of OA is the loss of articular cartilage, essential for normal functioning of the joint. Inflammation of the capsule around the joint leads to the production of inflammatory chemicals which worsen the condition.

severe arthritis

The pain of OA varies. It often starts with a dull, aching joint pain that is difficult to pin down to one joint, and can lead to increasingly severe pain from progressively less stimulation.

Signs include limping, stiffness, gait-alterations, reluctance to exercise, muscle wasting, and physical changes to the joint such as swelling, pain, reduced range of motion, and crepitus (that crunching feeling on moving an inflamed joint).

OA is diagnosed by clinical examination, x-ray, sometimes joint fluid analysis, and in cats often by response to treatment.

Management involves a combination of therapies:

  • Weight control – important for all pets as it reduces the signs of arthritis, and the chances of developing it.
  • Exercise – should be reduced during flare ups of arthritic pain, to allow the inflammation to subside. In the long term, regular, moderate, controlled exercise may be beneficial.
  • Pain killers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs). These highly effective medications form the mainstay of OA treatment, but need to be used with care as they can have side effects. Other pain killers are also available.
  • Pentosan is a course of injections which may act to slow cartilage degradation.
  • Selected brands of glucosamine and chondroitin may benefit dogs.
  • Essential fatty acid (EFA) supplements (fish oils).
  • Stem cell therapy is a very new treatment for the management of OA, involving extracting and activating the stem cells from fat, then injecting these back into the affected arthritic joints.
  • Surgery can also be used to treat some patients, e.g. stabilising a cruciate-damaged joint, fusing a severely arthritic joint, or even removing a joint completely.

OA is common and unpleasant. It is also manageable in almost every patient, so talk to your vet if you think your pet may be affected.

Dr Paul Eason BVM&S MANZCVS (Surgery, Emergency & Critical Care)