bit creaky? Slowing up a bit? Stiff in the mornings? Whilst this may be true for yourself, I wonder if you’ve noticed similar signs in your pet. Arthritis can impact animals in similar ways to humans, and it’s good to be aware of the signs so we can keep your furry friend springing about comfortably for as long as possible.
Arthritis – what actually is it?
Simply put, arthritis means inflammation of the joint. A healthy joint is where the ends of two bones meet, with smooth cartilage to protect each bone surface, and an oily joint fluid in the joint space to allow easy gliding movement.
In arthritic joints, we see a decline in the quality of the cartilage, resulting in a less smooth movement of the joint, and the rubbing together of the bone ends. This then causes further damage to the cartilage, and results in swelling and pain of the joints. New boney structures can start to form as a result of increased friction in very arthritic joints, which restricts movement further and adds to joint stiffness and pain. Arthritis can affect just one, or numerous joints in your pet.
Who’s at risk?
We can identify certain risk factors in our pets, suggesting particular groups of animals are more likely to experience joint problems.
- Breed disposition:
Dogs – Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds
Cats – Himalayan, Persians and Siamese
As in humans, arthritis is often seen more commonly in older patients, however some younger animals can have problems with bone or joint development, predisposing them to joint concerns.
A major risk factor for arthritis is obesity – simply put, the more weight the joints have to carry around, the more pressure they are under and so the faster the risk of decline. Cold weather can make arthritic signs more pronounced, as well as over exercise or heavy, repeated impact.
- Predisposing injury:
If your pet already has, for example, a ligament, tendon or bone injury, this instability in the joint conformation can lead to a speedier decline in the cartilage.
How do we find out if arthritis is the problem?
- Characteristic signs:
We often see a combination, or sometimes all, of these classic signs in our arthritic patients which can help lead to a diagnosis:
- Stiff/lame after lying down for a while, then limbering up well after a walk
- Licking at particular joints continuously
- Swollen joints
- In cats especially, we see a reluctance to jump, more irritability when stroked and a reduced ability/inclination to groom themselves which can lead to matts in the coat.
To diagnose arthritis effectively , we x-ray the animal’s joints whilst under sedation or anaesthetic. This photo shows clearly the difference between a healthy and an arthritic knee joint – we see the “fluffy” bone change, increase in hazy inflamed fluid in the joint space, and rough edges to the bone surfaces.
What can we do to help?
Arthritis is sadly a progressive condition, and once cartilage has become damaged, it rarely fully heals. Therefore treatment for arthritis is focused on addressing any underlying triggers for the arthritis, prevention of decline, and maintenance of healthy joints where possible.
Keeping your pet as lean and fit as possible is a key component to preventing joint disease. Through maintenance of a healthy body weight, and strong muscles from routine moderate levels of exercise, the joints are given the best support to function efficiently for longer.
Nutraceuticals, or supplements, are becoming a mainstay of arthritis treatment. These classically contain glucosamine and chondroitin, which are found naturally in cartilage, and help to support healthy function of the joint. Additional ingredients can include natural agents to ease inflammation or act as antioxidants.
Pain relief is an important part of arthritis care, enabling your pet to continue to live a happy life. Routine anti-inflammatories reduce swelling, and therefore pain, at the joint surface and can be given as required, or on a routine basis. We advise this to be given alongside supplements for all round joint support.
For advanced arthritic cases, further treatment options include physio/hydrotherapy to improve muscle tone and joint movement, laser therapy to increase blood flow to affected areas and a course of injections to help protect the cartilage and promote joint repair. Some cases can even benefit from surgical intervention if suitable.
If any of the information provided here has struck a cord with you and your pet, please do not hesitate to give us a bell or pop in for a chat about how we can help support your pet towards a more comfortable and happy life.
Written by Veterinary Surgeon – Elly Berry