Have you noticed your pet limping lately? Or maybe your pet is a bit stiff after getting up? Or even just not as keen to jump up on the couch? It can be worrying not knowing what’s causing these changes in our fur babies. But, we are here to help!
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of lameness in dogs, with 80% of dogs by age 8 and 20% of dogs by age 1, showing signs of arthritis.
Yes, osteoarthritis is not just a human disease! It can cause mild aching pain, but it can also be so serious and debilitating that some pet owners choose euthanasia due to poor quality of life. These poor pets creak and hobble around the house, struggle up and down stairs and work especially hard to get to their feet in the chilly mornings. It can cause loss of bodily functions so even a well-trained dog would rather wee inside than go through the pain of walking outside.
So what exactly is arthritis?
A healthy joint consists of two pieces of bone, each covered with a healthy smooth layer of cartilage, lubricated with joint fluid to enable pain and creak-free movement. All of this is then covered with a capsule and held together with ligaments. Arthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints in an animal’s body. This can be because of an injury, abnormal joint development, compensatory to other musculoskeletal issues or wear and tear with age. Once a joint is injured, damaging enzymes are released from the injured tissues. These enzymes cause further damage to the joint. The damaging enzymes spread deep into cracks that appear in the joint cartilage, severely damaging the underlying bone. The irritation causes the bone to react aggressively and bony outgrowths and spikes grow into and around the joint, crippling the pet and causing continual pain. Suddenly bone grinds on bone. Ouch!
Image source: https://topdoghealth.com/foods-to-avoid-for-arthritic-dogs/
Arthritis is common in cats as well but it is very often missed. One of the tell-tale signs in cats is problems grooming themselves and often developing little knots/matts of fur. You may also notice difficulty using their litter tray accurately as they cannot squat when toileting. They may also choose not to jump up on their usual high resting spots, like the couch, beds, and benches.
To help us design a treatment plan for pets we need to see them in person because the symptoms of osteoarthritis can be similar to other diseases. A history of the problem, combined with a physical examination to determine the range of movement in a joint, any joint thickening or crepitus (a crunching/crackling feeling while manipulating the joint), degree of pain and any other complicating musculoskeletal issues.
X-rays are also very useful as they will show the amount of new bone production, bone remodelling, narrowing of the joint space and sometimes swelling of the joint “joint effusion”. X-rays will also help rule out more devastating conditions like bone cancer.
It all comes down to:
Arthritis is a very painful disease of the joints for pets and humans alike. Its origin can be because of joint deformities, trauma, immune-mediated conditions or simply wear and tear that comes with age.
Most commonly pets will start to limp, seem stiff and/or slow down. Cats, being natural acrobats, very often don’t limp. They tend to alter their grooming behaviours, toileting behaviours and stop jumping up to their favourite high places. They may even choose to slide/stretch down from high places rather than jumping off. Look out for that!
The good news is, there is now SO MUCH that we can do to treat arthritis and make our fur babies more comfortable. The most effective treatment is multimodal. Lots of little things can make a huge difference. Your family vet can help with this, but stay tuned and we will discuss treatment options in more detail next time.