What is Arthritis?
Technically, the term means “inflammation of a joint”, and there are many different types, from the most common to the most bizarre.
In everyday life, there is one form of arthritis that is far common than any other. This is correctly called “osteoarthritis”, or “degenerative joint disease”, often abbreviated to OA or DJD. When people talk about arthritis, they are referring to this condition.
- The best description of the condition is probably summarised as “age-related wear and tear of the joints”.
- As dogs and cats go about their daily routines, the different joints around the body suffer repeated episodes of trauma.
- In a young healthy animal, this damage is repaired so rapidly that the damage is never apparent. However, as animal ages, the body becomes slower and less effective at repairing itself.
- The lining of an affected joint becomes continually inflamed, and the joint becomes swollen and painful. It is at this stage that the pet may start to show signs of arthritis.
- They may become lame, favouring one leg over another. Or they may be slow to get up in the morning, especially after a long walk on the previous day.
Factors Affecting Joints
There are many factors that affect the wear-and-tear of joints.
- Some breeds are more prone to arthritis, because of an inherited fault with the design of particular joints.
- Hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders are often genetically programmed to be a particular shape and structure that makes them more susceptible to damage from normal daily activities.
- Excessive exercise at a young age makes the problem worse.
- Injuries to joints can also predispose to arthritis. One of the most common knee injuries is a “ruptured cruciate ligament”. This can be successfully surgically repaired so that the knee can function normally again, but even then, there is an increased risk of arthritis as the animal grows older.
Common Signs of Arthritis
So how does an owner know if their pet has arthritis? A pet cannot complain that a joint is painful, so owners need to be watchful.
The most common sign is a lameness, or if multiple joints are affected, an animal may just appear “creaky”, and slower to move around than normal.
The dull, low-grade pain may mean that a pet becomes quieter and less enthusiastic about normal daily activities.
Colder, damp weather seems to exacerbate the symptoms.
A vet can easily confirm the presence of arthritis. Sometimes a simple physical examination is enough. As a joint is flexed and extended, an affected animal will usually give some sign of discomfort. Often, your vet may suggest radiography (X-rays) as part of an initial assessment of the problem, to visualise the severity of the changes in the joints.
Once the problem of arthritis has been diagnosed, there are four main ways to minimise the aches and pains.
1. Weight Control
Weight control is essential. If a dog is carrying too much weight, this puts added stresses on the joints. These stresses cause a higher level of joint damage, and consequently more severe arthritis. The first line of management of arthritis is often to use special diets to help a dog lose weight and so to minimise further joint damage.
Mild exercise helps to keep stiff joints supple and mobile. In general, the motto is ‘little and often’. This means 15 – 20 minutes twice a day rather than one long 40 minute hike every morning.
Medication is the most important part of treating arthritis. Modern veterinary science has a number of different drugs which help to ease arthritis by relieving pain and improving the function of the joints. The latest generation of medications designed for pets is stronger, safer, and more effective than ever before. A daily tablet can transform an older, creaky dog back into an active, lively animal.
Finally, acupuncture is an ancient form of treatment that is now becoming widely accepted by the scientific community in the veterinary world. Some arthritic animals respond well to regular “needling” sessions.
A high quality, balanced diet can help to aid a dog’s overall health. Petfix Club range of pet foods includes all the vitamins and minerals required to support cartilage within the joints. These recipes also contain Omega 3 supplement which is thought to help reduce inflammation.
What is Arthritis Awareness Week?
We have decided to make a “focus week” within our Petfix community. The aim should be that pet owners are quick to spot the symptoms of the disease in their pets. This should mean that early treatment will then minimise the discomfort suffered by affected animals.
If you have older dogs and cats in your house, observe their behaviour carefully, and lookout for signs of arthritis. If you see symptoms that concern you, ask your vet about the best way to help your pet.