With the cooler nights lately, we are seeing an influx of pets showing signs of arthritis. Dogs may present with intermittent lameness or stiffness which is worse after sleep or rest, especially after a cold night. Often they will at least partly warm out of it as the day progresses. In more advanced cases owners may notice loss of muscle of the limbs or back.
Cats with arthritis show more subtle signs: Owners may notice them becoming less active, not wanting to jump, hiding away more, becoming irritable, or grooming themselves less.
Arthritis (also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease) is a progressive degeneration of the joints with loss of the protective cartilage, changes in the bone, thickening of the connective tissue around the joint, inflammation and pain. It can be age related, or a result of trauma or poor joint alignment. 60% of dogs and 22% of cats have evidence of arthritis on x-rays. This percentage increases with age.
Arthritis is incurable and worsens with time. However, there are steps which can be taken to slow the progression of joint damage and provide relief of pain.
In mild cases, we tend to recommend first trying chondroprotectants, otherwise known as joint supplements. They slow the breakdown of cartilage, and/or provide the building blocks to help build it. Some also decrease joint fluid secretion and inflammation. The oral forms include glucosamine, chondroitin or green lipped muscle, and can be given as capsules, or granules/powders to add to the food. The injectable forms (such as cartrophen) provide a faster and longer-lasting effect. The injections are given once a week for four weeks running and generally provide improvement for at least three months.
In moderate cases, we recommend a combination of chondroprotectants and oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). NSAIDs (such as meloxicam) are very effective at relieving pain and inflammation, and can make a big difference in the quality of life for pets with arthritis.
In severe cases there may be too little cartilage remaining in the affected joints for chondroprotectants to have an effect. In these pets we generally use a combination of NSAIDs and other analgesic drugs.
Weight control is an important part of arthritis management as excess body weight increases the stress on joints. There are low energy prescription diets available which can help with weight loss. Low impact exercise such as walking and swimming can also be very helpful, both with weight loss and to improve joint mobility and strengthen muscles.