It can be heart breaking to see your once lively, always active best friend begin to limp, or notice his or her obvious pain when moving around. A chronic, degenerative joint disease that makes movement difficult and painful, osteoarthritis mainly strikes pets in their middle and senior years. However, younger animals can also be affected. In fact, studies show that approximately 20% of dogs have the condition in some form.
Early warning signs of osteoarthritis:
- Difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, or getting in and out of the litter box
- An overall decrease in activity, especially play
- Resting more than usual
- Slowness in getting up from a lying position
- For dogs, “bunny hopping” with the hind legs, rather than running normally
- Slow or stiff movements upon waking, after a rest, or in cold weather
- Beginning to limp
- Swollen joint(s) that is warm to the touch
- Licking or biting at a joint
- Personality change – your pet no longer likes to be touched
If you notice any of the signs above, don’t just think that your pet is “slowing down with age”. Take him or her to see your veterinary surgeon. The faster osteoarthritis is first diagnosed and treated, the better your pet’s quality of life will be.
There are many causes, but practically all can be grouped into two main categories:
- Abnormal stress on normal joints
- An injury that damages a joint
- “Wear and tear”: joints are subjected to repeated loads or stress
- Obesity: an excessive load is put on joints
- Normal stress on abnormal joints
- Developmental defects that alter the shape or stability of a joint
- Poor limb configuration: bow legs or knock knees can cause an uneven load on a joint
- Genetic predisposition: some breeds of dogs are just more prone to osteoarthritis than others
- Hip Dysplasia: Normal stresses on a dysplastic (malformed) joint will lead to arthritis.
Whatever the specific cause, stress on a joint can begin a destructive cycle of inflammation of the joint area and damage to the cartilage that leads to pain for your pet.
Some pets’ pain and loss of mobility can be kept to a minimum for long periods of time with a simple regimen of weight control, moderate, regular exercise and the occasional use of anti-inflammatory drugs if flare-ups occur (It is extremely important that any anti-inflammatory you plan to give to your pet is approved by your TAH vet before administering. This is because human medication often has ingredients that are difficult for our pets to break down causing damage to their internal organs.) For others, severe damage to the joints may occur rapidly and require long-term medication and other therapy. In either case, your veterinary surgeon can determine the best course of treatment for your pet’s particular condition. There is no reason why, with your loving attention and committed care, as well as your veterinary surgeon’s guidance, your osteoarthritis pet cannot have a happy, healthy and comfortable life for many years to come.