Osteoarthritis (Arthritis) and Joint Health

May 31, 2022

Photo Credit: pxhere.com

Osteoarthritis (commonly known as arthritis) is a degenerative, painful and debilitating joint disease that affects dogs and cats.  It makes movement difficult and painful and progressively gets worse over time.  

Simply put, “Osteo” refers to bone and “itis” refers to inflammation.  

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by either (a) abnormal stress on normal joints or (b) normal stress on abnormal joints.  Underlying triggers for the Osteoarthritis might be genetic inheritance, injury to joints or limbs, obesity or bone defects.  Repetitive wear and tear create inflammation within the joint, leading to pain and further degradation of the cartilage cells.

While it is more common in older animals it can start earlier depending on the underlying triggers.  That’s why it’s so important to ensure your young pet maintains a healthy weight and keeps exercising regularly

Arthritis affects at least one in five dogs and 90% of cats aged over 12 (50% of cats over the age of 6).  It is the number one cause of chronic pain in pets and can progress rapidly over weeks or months, or slowly over years.  

Developmental issues in younger animals, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, are other common causes of arthritis.  However, most symptoms reveal themselves later in life.  But what ‘later’ means depends on the individual. 

In general, giant breed dogs age faster than smaller breed dogs. A Great Dane is considered to be senior by roughly 5-6 years old, whereas a Chihuahua would likely only be middle-aged by then, and not considered senior until 10-11 years.

Large breed dogs fall somewhere in between. A Labrador Retriever might be considered senior by 8-9 years of age. Genetics, nutrition and environment all play a role in how fast your dog, ages too. 

Signs of Osteoarthritis

  • Difficulty or reluctance to walking, climbing stairs or jumping/landing.
  • Stiffness when moving to stand or lie down and taking time to “get going” after resting.
  • Resting more than normal, decrease in general activity, particularly play time.
  • Abnormal gait, limping and dogs may “bunny hop” with their hind legs instead of running normally.
  • Circling and taking time to get down into a comfortable position
  • Swollen joints that are warm to the touch.  
  • Toileting accidents.
  • Licking or gnawing at a joints or paws.
  • Repelling your petting/touching them.  
  • Postural change or muscle wastage.
  • Cats may become more withdrawn and hide more often.
  • Cats fail to groom themselves, eat less and loose weight.
  • Cats often don’t make their signs of arthritis very obvious to us and may need veterinary assessment to determine if they are suffering from arthritis or not

Treatment of Osteoarthritis

While there is no cure for Osteoarthritis, there are a number of excellent natural and medicinal options your vet can suggest to manage the pain and/or inflammation and keep your pet mobile and healthy in their senior years.  

Weight management (find out how to assess if your pet is overweight), regular exercise (see Exercise for Seniors), anti-inflammatory medications and home alterations are just some of the options your vet will take you through if you pet presents with these symptoms.  

Arthritis can be quickly and easily diagnosed by our experienced team of Veterinarians. We perform a range of physical examinations to assess whether your pet may be suffering from arthritis. We’ll ask you lots of questions too so we can get a good picture of your pet’s overall health and any recent changes in mood, behaviour or movement. 

In more serious cases, particularly in younger animals where we suspect there may be a mechanical issue, we may take some radiographs of the affected joint. This will give us a definitive answer and will help get your pet onto an appropriate arthritis management plan.

Medications work by:

  • Reducing inflammation and pain.
  • Restoring cartilage through regeneration.
  • Preventing joint degradation.
  • Protecting the remaining healthy cartilage.

Even if your pet shows signs of arthritis, it’s still important to keep them active. There are many benefits in exercising older animals, such as mental stimulation, heart health, maintenance of weight and keeping their muscles strong and supple. 

Contrary to popular belief, lack of regular exercise can lead to further stiffness and injury. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the biggest things you can do to help your pet avoid the pain of arthritis. 

Osteoarthritis Rehabilitation and Supplementation

The breakdown of cartilage in your pet’s joints may be a natural consequence of an active life, but it’s not inevitable. 

If the minute injuries to the cartilage or other joint structures that result from exertion are not given sufficient time to heal, the destructive cycle of joint disease can begin.  Inflammatory enzymes sent to repair cartilage defects also break down the synovial fluid, making it thinner and less protective.

At the same time, collagen and proteoglycans are lost, reducing the cartilage’s ability to stay hydrated and flexible. And, if the animal continues to exercise as their joint is trying to repair itself, the cycle of inflammation continues, and more damage occurs.

Reducing, halting and reversing this cycle in its early phase is vital to ensuring your pet leads a happy, healthy and active life. The longer it goes on, the harder it gets to implement effective treatment and management programs.

Senior Classes

Senior classes teach you about massage, correct heat application, physio techniques and more to keep your older dog in a more comfortable state.  Acupuncture may be offered as well as mobility exercises to ease pain and increase movement.  

Ask our staff if this sounds like something you would are interested in and check out Tim Norris, Both Ends of the Lead Arthritis Master Class.

Arthritis is the end result of a cascade of events involving your pet’s joints. For best treatment results, intervene early.  Book online at The Village Vet or call us directly at the Pymble Clinic on 9499 4010 or Killara Hospital on 8350 5678 if you would like more information on how to comfortably manage a life with Osteoarthritis.


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