Most of us are familiar with the term “arthritis.” Chances are, you know someone who suffers from this painful joint disease. But, did you know our pets can develop this condition, too? Arthritis, which refers to pain and inflammation of one or more joints, affects pets worldwide—approximately 15 million dogs in the United States alone head to their veterinarian each year because of signs of joint pain, lameness, and stiffness. Here’s what you need to know about this debilitating condition, and how your furry friend may be affected.
#1: Pets don’t typically develop the same type of arthritis as people
When we think about arthritis in people, most of us think of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks its own joints. While this condition, known as immune-mediated polyarthritis in dogs, does occur, a different arthritis type is far more common in dogs and cats. Osteoarthritis occurs when the joint structures gradually degenerate, leading to cartilage loss, thickened joint capsules, and new bone formation (i.e., bone spurs). This combination of events eventually leads to clinical signs in our pets.
#2: Arthritis pain in pets isn’t always obvious
Osteoarthritis is a highly inflammatory, painful disease. But, thanks to their stoic nature, dogs and cats aren’t always apt to show they are in pain, likely because of an instinctive mechanism that originally protected them from wild predators. While this may have been beneficial before dogs and cats became domesticated, masking pain only makes it harder for their owners to help them. Keeping an eye out for subtle discomfort indicators is essential for pet owners, as once obvious signs like limping are present, pain has often become severe.
Pets who are suffering from arthritic pain may pace, take a long time to find a comfortable position, be hesitant to rise or use stairs, and may have appetite changes. You’ll notice they are less willing to jump into vehicles, and they walk more slowly. Cats may lose interest in climbing, or finding high spaces. Posturing for urination or defecation may become difficult, and you may notice a decrease in hind limb musculature (i.e., atrophy). Your Harbor Pines Veterinary Clinic veterinarian is skilled in picking up subtle pain signs in pets, so ensure you always bring in your pet for their annual or semi-annual examinations.
#3: Arthritis doesn’t occur only in older pets
While osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that generally worsens with age, wear, and tear, pets as young as a year old can develop joint inflammation—usually because of an underlying orthopedic condition. A 2013 U.K. study found that dogs between 3 and 6 years of age were 400 percent more likely to receive an arthritis diagnosis than those between 1 and 3 years old. Though this correlates with an increased likelihood of developing arthritis with age, learning that dogs as young as 3 are already at-risk was a shock. Knowing your pet’s risk factors are key in monitoring for arthritis signs, and beginning preventive measures early is best. Talk to the veterinary team at Harbor Pines Veterinary Clinic to discuss your pet’s risk factors, and to see if they require a special diet or supplement as part of a preventive regimen.
#4: Some pets are more prone than others to arthritis
Most pets suffering from arthritis have an underlying orthopedic condition that predisposes them to degenerative joint disease. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, common ailments in dogs that contribute to arthritis include cranial cruciate disease, which equates to the anterior cruciate ligament in people, hip and elbow dysplasia, and knee cap dislocation. A smaller percentage of pets develop osteoarthritis simply because of age and/or a genetic predisposition. Perpetuating factors for arthritis development in pets include obesity, gender, diet, and exercise habits. In many pets, a combination of factors contribute to morbidity.
#5: Arthritis cannot be reversed, but many treatment options are available
Osteoarthritis cannot be cured because of its degenerative nature. Fortunately, because of veterinary advancements, pets can be kept comfortable while disease progression is slowed. Anti-inflammatory drugs are an osteoarthritis treatment mainstay, and newer options make these medications safer and more tolerable. A healthy diet and regular exercise are fundamental for keeping joints supple and in good shape. Certain supplements, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and fish oil, may protect cartilage, and other disease-modifying agents may aid in joint support. Chiropractic care, acupuncture, physical rehabilitation, and cold laser therapy are other alternative options for arthritis pet patients. Talk to our veterinary team about the therapies best for your pet.
At Harbor Pines Veterinary Clinic, we know arthritis, and we know pets. Contact us today to get answers to your arthritis questions, or to set up a consultation for your pet. We want to help your arthritic pet.