It is a fact that our pets are living longer and longer, just like us. There are many reasons for it; extensive vet care, good nutrition and improved quality of life, just to mention a few. As a result of living longer our pets experience different problems such as increased need for dental treatment and more old age diseases such as dementia and arthritis. Arthritis is a medical term which means inflammation of the joint. Osteoarthriritis is chronic arthritis often referred to as degenerative joint disease or DJD.

DJD can be primary which is rare and secondary which occurs as a result of joint abnormality or damage that happens first before arthritis sets in. Common reasons are hip dysplasia, issues with kneecaps, degenerative cartilage problems like OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) and others.

Arthritis is usually more pronounced in obese and large breed dogs although no breed or species is spared. Previous injury or surgery often makes your pet more susceptible to arthritis.

What are the symptoms?

Pain, lameness, difficulties in getting up, jumping in and out of the car, going upstairs and downstairs, reluctance to go for a walk and exercise are some of them. In some cases the pet may refuse to use leg/s or refuse to do anything. Some pets may stop eating, get lethargic or aggressive. Joints may make a grating noise (crepituce), be loose, swollen or the range of motions can be reduced. In advanced cases a deformity of the leg or joint may be visible.

What can I do to help?

There are many things that can be done to help your pet. Medications, physiotherapy and light exercise are good places to start. Medications (non steroidal drugs, glucosamine, pentosan injections) will help manage pain and inflammation. Physiotherapy will maintain the normal range of joint movement as much as possible and improve the lubrication of joints. Exercise, on the other hand, helps with muscle tone and as a result of this the joints stay tight and damage that occurs as a result of joint laxity is minimised.

Diet is another important factor. Some commercially available prescription diets can make all the difference. Sea food extracts (green lip mussels, shark cartilage), fish oils and other oils with high ratio of essential fatty acids interfere with inflammatory pathways in the body and reduce the need for other medications.

If there is severe joint damage then surgery can be the only option. The faulty parts are removed and the joint is examined thoroughly. Joints can be removed e.g. femoral head excision or even replaced with a total joint replacement implant (e.g. hip replacement). The bottom line is that good management is important and starts from day one when you get a puppy or kitten. Exercise them wisely (no strenuous exercise when young especially large dogs since joints are weak and body is heavy) and feed them a quality diet. Even these simple measures may be enough to slow down the progression of arthritis.

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