Recently, the weather has made abrupt changes. One week the weather consists of 70-degree temperatures and beautiful sunny days. Then, abruptly, the next week’s weather is cold and rainy with near below freezing nights. Subsequently, my right elbow has been constantly aching and even producing sharp pains from time to time. Arthritis! It is certainly not an old wives tale when someone says they can tell it is going to rain soon because their knees are hurting. Just like so many ailments, pets get arthritis too!
Arthritis is a complex condition involving inflammation of one or more joints. There are many causes of arthritis in pets. Basically, the likelihood and severity of arthritis is related to the age of the pet. There are different kinds of arthritis. Primary arthritis such as Rheumatoid arthritis is a genetic condition causing cartilage and bone erosion within the affected joints. Secondary arthritis is a condition resulting from joint instability that leads to damage of the bone within the joint. Secondary arthritis is the most common form found in pets.
Osteoarthritis, secondary arthritis, also known as (DJD) degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis in pets. Common causes of DJD are hip dysplasia, ligament rupture and other kinds of joint trauma.
Joint infection, often as a result of bite wounds, causes similar arthritis. Infective arthritis can be caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. It usually only affects a single joint and causes swelling, heat and pain in the joint. With infective arthritis, your pet is likely to stop eating and become depressed.
In general, the larger the pet, the more likely they will develop arthritis! Hip dysplasia is a condition (primarily genetic) where the hip joint changes shape. The hip is a “ball and socket joint.” With hip dysplasia, the ball becomes rough and less round and the socket becomes shallower. The rough and irregular shape to the joint reduces joint mobility, and therefore produces pain.
Hip dysplasia is most common in large breed dogs. Certain breeds such as German shepherds, labrador retrievers and collies are more prone to hip dysplasia. In addition, dogs which are overweight struggle more with arthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis can vary in pets. Pets do seem to have a greater tolerance for pain than do their owners. Some pets show little or no sign until it has progressed to severe arthritis. The typical symptoms include difficulty getting up, walking slow, walking stiff legged, walking crouched down in the rear end and whimpering while getting up. Symptoms in cats may be less obvious. Often they will just lie around and are less active.
How do we treat arthritis? Treatment depends on the cause of arthritis. Primary arthritis like Rheumatoid arthritis is usually treated with high doses of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive agents.
Infective arthritis is treated with antibiotics which usually must be administered for a minimum of a month. Other pain relief medications are necessary to combat pain and inflammation. The typical secondary osteoarthritis or (DJD), degenerative arthritis, is treated with analgesics such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
It is important to select these medications with care since some pets are more sensitive than others to the potential side-effects of analgesics. The most common side-effects include decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition, these medications can cause harm to the kidneys and liver.
Therefore, it is important to have blood tests performed to make sure that the pet can safely metabolize and eliminate the medication. Periodic blood tests are necessary to ensure continued safe usage.
Other medications called glucosamine, a joint supplement, are used to actually “remodel” the joint surface and produce more joint fluid. These medications are more effective if used daily and long term.
Additionally, treatment modalities such as acupuncture have become very effective for the treatment of pet’s arthritis. Also, stem cell therapy is the most modern and technologically advanced treatment available now for pets.
If your pet shows any signs of arthritis, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure you pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.