Osteoarthritis is also referred to as Degenerative Joint Disease or simply Arthritis.
It is the most common form of canine joint & musculoskeletal disease. Signs that you may observe include limping, difficulty in getting up, stiffness along with a reluctance or inability to run, play, climb stairs. It is a chronic and progressive disease and currently there is no cure.
No matter what some manufacturers may claim, they cannot cure this disease.
The only cure is to replace the joint.
Our attention is primarily directed at reducing the signs of pain and increasing joint mobility if possible. We want your pet to enjoy life as much as possible.
What is osteoarthritis ?
Well, it involves the loss of the smooth surfaces of the joints. Imagine an engine working without the lubrication of the oil within it and the friction that results with everything grinding to a halt. It’s not a pleasant thought.
Many changes also develop within the tissues around the joint. The joint capsule becomes inflamed and thickened. The smooth cartilage over the surface of bones within the joint is gradually lost, exposing the bone beneath it. Bone beneath the surface suffers changes in blood supply and this also contributes to function and pain. It also affects the strength and quality of that bone. New bone is produced around joints which can contribute to the reduction in flexibility as well as increasing the amount of friction associated with movement.
Arthritis is a slowly progressive condition fuelled by the gradual and constant release of products from damaged tissues. We refer to these as inflammatory mediators. Constant release of these products stimulates the nerves which then transmit the information to the brain and result in what is perceived as pain. Constant stimulation effectively alters the sensitivity of the nerves so that hypersensitivity results and even small, and probably normal movements result in pain.
Muscle can also become involved in this general inflammatory process so that we see the loss of muscle with resulting weakness, and we also see poorly localised muscle pain developing.
We generally reach the diagnosis by looking at the patient and also at x-rays. X-rays generally show the changes within the joints such as the roughening of the bone which generally occurs with degenerating joints. We don't know exactly how or why irregular new bone forms at the periphery of the joint but it is one of the more significant abnormalities that we identify on x-rays.
The picture on the right shows these ‘Osteophytes’ around the periphery of the joint and the x-ray shows these roughened areas circled.
Not all the cases have such obvious changes when we take pictures, and we occasionally look at samples of the lubricating fluid. The numbers & types of cells present can help us localise which joints are most likely to be causing a problem. Occasionally we also have to look at the possibility of infections in joints and this fluid is especially useful in these situations.
How do we treat and manage arthritis ?
There are a number of approaches that you can take to help your pet in addition to the use of ‘painkillers’. Whilst these are necessary, they don’t necessarily alter the progression of arthritis, although some may do more harm to cartilage than others, hence the selection of agents used.
Products are chosen really carefully to ensure that they are effective and safe.
Because these products can occasionally affect other body systems, we will also check liver and kidney function with some patients.
Studies show that a 11-18% body weight reduction significantly reduces lameness and the requirement for painkillers.
We all know it is difficult. It can be accomplished by reducing the amount of the existing diet that you use, and ensuring that those high calorie treats – human food, are basically cut out. If you think of it in terms of a digestive biscuit for the dog being equivalent to a beef burger for ourselves as a treat, it gives you an idea. Many people experience trouble losing weight and try many different diets.
Fortunately, the range is not quite so confusing for pets. A number of companies make foods designed to help you reduce your dogs weight. Hills have recently added a food called 'Metabolic' to their range and having used this for my little rotund terrier, I can definitely say that it works. Royal Canin and Purina also make excellent diets.
You can successfully diet your pet without these specialised diets . By reducing their volume by around a third, you will often succeed. You can use vegetables such as runner beans, broccoli and cabbage to help increase the volume and reduce the carbohydrate content. Make sure you avoid potatoes, pasta and rice - and obviously leftovers from your own meals.
‘Light’ diets do help but are not always the best thing for weight loss, more in preventing some more sedentary individuals from gaining weight.
There are many supplements on the market. They will usually be used alongside anti-inflammatory painkillers when needed rather than instead of them.
Visit any health food shop, or pharmacy and you will see a huge variety available for humans. It must be admitted that precise data is lacking in specifics but they definitely can, and do exhibit an anti-degradative function and can influence the way individuals feel.
There is probably now far more data to suggest that good old fashioned fish oils might work. Hills j/d diet has been formulated with added levels of Omega 3,6 & 9 Acids. This balance has been designed specifically for dogs and probably cannot be reproduced in a balanced stable product by itself. However if you want to use something, then it looks like you could do far worse than reach for some old fashioned Cod Liver Oil. We know in humans that it helps with all sorts of issues, and might even help humans with brain function , especially later in life. Certain balances of fish oil are also now used for pets that have heart problems.
An alternative approach with supplements is the use of an injection such as Cartrophen which modifies joint fluid. This is usually given weekly for four consecutive weeks, roughly once per annum, although may be used as often as an owner or vet observes is beneficial.
You can reach for all sorts of products such as copper collars, magnetic collars and a host of natural remedies such as Seaweed extracts and Devil’s claw. It is rare that anything will make matters worse so they are frequently worth consideration.
Everything may be good in moderation and the same is true of exercise. It is good for weight control, mental stimulation and to enjoy life. However, it can easily be overdone and in trying to please us, it is easy for our pets to over do it, only to feel the effects later when the adrenaline surge has settled. We often do this ourselves - a long run, a long walk and then wonder why we're stiff the next day, and despite us knowing what we are doing, we'll repeat the same mistake over & over again !
Lead exercise is better on the whole, or at least avoiding running, jumping, with lots of twisting and turning. Swimming is tremendously beneficial, but if done in a river, or lake, make sure they don’t get chilled and cold.