By: Dr. Hilary Slaven
Like us, animals can face the same difficulties with the development of arthritis and pain in joints as they age.
You’ve got to love the face of an aging retriever. So eager to please, often these mild-mannered dogs tend not to complain as they age and joint pain can easily be overlooked. The signs can be subtle – slower to rise up after a nap, laying around more than in the past, or hesitating a bit before moving down stairs. Sometimes it creeps up on us so slowly that we come to view these signs as normal. “He’s slowed down, Doc, but he’s an old dog now.”
“Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease in dogs. It is estimated that up to 20% of the adult canine population has some form of osteoarthritis.” – John Innes
What are the signs and symptoms?
We hear stories about how Roger takes a bit longer to get up after a nap than he used to. Or he sleeps more often, or he runs a bit slower than in the past. Some dogs will have difficulty walking on slick flooring (not enough traction) or looks at the stairs or the couch until he gets assistance to get to his destination. Still others seemingly act fine until one day he favors a leg or doesn’t want to get up at all. At this point, the problem can effect appetite and can prohibit any activity whatsoever.
So what happens to the joint that causes this pain? What is arthritis?
The central problem is the gradual loss of cartilage in the joint space. Cartilage is the cushion on the ends of long bones. It lives within the joint space and acts as a shock absorber during movement. It also provides a smooth surface for the joint to glide smoothly.
Without enough cartilage, bone starts to rub against bone and the joint becomes stiff, painful and swollen.
Any of us that deal with this problem from day to day can tell you that this kind of pain is chronic and can get in the way of normal day-to-day activities. It can progress to a truly debilitating state. It can change our attitude, our appetite and our outlook. It’s the same for our furry friends.
How can we diagnose the problem?
Often an owner that is observant and can give us a good history as to the dog’s health can help us get halfway to the official diagnosis. A thorough physical exam and sometimes x-rays can definitively diagnose osteoarthritis. Sometimes osteoarthritis can be a result of poor conformation (such as hip dysplasia), and these structural problems may need to be addressed as well.
Usually the most successful arthritis treatments involve more than one aspect.
1. Pain Relief.
The first thing that we often have to address is the pain involved. If we can give the pet relief from inflammation and pain for a few days, often we see an interest in going for short walks and short bursts of play. With some movement, the joint begins to loosen and this alone can help the animal to feel better. The more an animal moves, the better he feels and the more willing he is to continue with daily activity.
2. Regular physical activity and rest.
Walking, running, swimming, and range of motion exercises can all help loosen the joint. This must be done in a controlled manner and under the care of your veterinarian. Leash walks are generally preferred.
3. Dietary Management.
If your pet is overweight, now is the time to be aggressive with a weight management program. Your veterinarian can help you to find a diet that fits into your lifestyle and can develop a plan for weight loss. Removing the extra weight is essential in slowing down the process of arthritis and keeping your furry friend active.
4. Chondroprotective agents.
Often supplements such as glucosamine hydrochloride, chondroitin sulfate, manganese and omega-3 essential fatty acids can significantly improve joint pain. Glucosamine is rapidly taken up by cartilage cells and helps stimulate the synthesis of synovial fluid in the joint and cartilage itself. It also helps inhibit the destructive enzymes that can destroy cartilage. These supplements can be given as a whole diet (such as Hill’s J/D diet), or as individual tablet, liquid or capsule form. Consult your veterinarian on what may be the best plan for you and your pet.
5. Regular follow-up with your veterinarian can help to tailor your pet’s health regimen to one that keeps your furry family member comfortable and happy.