The term arthritis is used for any abnormal change in the joint. The normal joint has cartilage and fluid that act as a cushion and prevent two bones from rubbing together. As arthritis progresses, these cushions degrade and the joint becomes swollen and painful as the bone starts to rub together.
Signs of arthritis can be quite subtle, and may include difficulty going up or down stairs, walking or running more slowly, reluctance to play or jump, aggression, or even growling or yelping when particular areas are touched. If your pet exhibits any of these signs they should be discussed with your veterinarian. Never give your pets any human medications, either over-the-counter or prescription without consulting with your veterinarian as they can be toxic and even cause death. The initial goal is to diagnose the underlying cause of the discomfort.
Diagnostic testing begins with a comprehensive physical exam. During this exam the veterinary team will assess range of motion of the joints, discomfort, neurologic function, muscle mass, body condition, and overall physical health. Frequently additional testing will be pursued which may include radiographs (x-rays), orthopedic examination under sedation, and evaluation of bloodwork and urinalysis.
Underlying causes include congenital or developmental problems such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, bacterial infection, and trauma. Certain breeds are more prone to arthritis including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers. Older dogs have more problems as the cartilage begins to degenerate and overweight pets will have more stress placed on their joints. Other disease processes that cause discomfort must be ruled out.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the arthritis. Although this condition cannot be cured, early treatment can help to slow the process and make your pet much more comfortable. Generally a multi-faceted approach to arthritis management will be taken and these steps may include:
- Dietary therapy: the two most common dietary options are either a weight-loss formula (r/d or w/d) to help your pet achieve his ideal body weight, or a diet that has been clinically proven to reduce pain and improve the quality of life (j/d) with balanced Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids to reduce inflammation in the joint
- Medication to slow the degredation of the joint cartilage: Adequan is FDA- approved and proven to slow the progression of arthritis
- Medications to relieve pain: several oral medications, including Rimadyl, are very safe and effective in relieving the day-to-day discomfort of arthritis
- Physical therapy: exercises can help to maintain muscle mass that support the joints