Information on arthritis in pets

What is Arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition of cartilage and bone. In arthritic animals, the cartilage in the joints breaks down faster than it can repair. This affects the normal joint stability and lubrication which results in joint pain. As the disease progresses new bone forms around the joints which causes more pain. Because arthritis is a painful condition it is important that it is treated. 
We often think of arthritis as a disease of older people and animals but this isn't always the case. Arthritis can occur in younger animals secondary to other joint issues. Examples of this are:

  • Obesity - overloading normal joints will eventually cause arthritis on it's own.
  • Joint infections or injury - e.g. trauma, cruciate ligament damage.
  • Joints not forming properly - e.g. hip or elbow dysplasia, bent or bowed legs

Arthritis is a progressive and incurable disease which means that as your pet gets older, the arthritis will get worse. For this reason we  practice 'arthritis management' to try and minimise changes and keep pets pain free and mobile for as long as possible.

What are the signs of Arthritis?

The typical signs of arthritis are stiffness and lameness. Some dogs and cats may limp, others may only show mild signs of stiffness after getting up in the mornings, or may have difficulty jumping or getting up steps or into the car. Affected joints may also appear swollen and hot and will have a reduced range of movement.

How do we diagnose Arthritis?

The symptoms will often give us a good idea that your pet may have arthritis. We will then watch your pet move and examine all of the joints. It's important to also look for other problems that may also contribute to your pet slowing down such as heart disease so a full physical examination will always be carried out.
X-rays are often required to confirm that it is just arthritis affecting the joints and to check for conditions requiring a surgical intervention such as cruciate disease or spinal disorders. X-rays also allow us to determine which joints are involved enabling us to target specific therapies in certain cases.


How do we treat Arthritis?

Although arthritis can’t be cured, there are lots of ways we can help your pet to relieve the arthritic pain and suffering.
Typically we look at 5 ways to help, A, B, C, D and E:

  • A is for Analgesia (Pain Relief)
  • B is for Bodyweight
  • C is for Comfort
  • D is for Disease Modification
  • E is for Exercise
  • F is for Physiotherapy

A is for Analgesia (Pain Relief)

Pain relief is very important for your pet to relieve pain and suffering. We provide pain relief usually with anti-inflammatory drugs initially. Anti-inflammatory drugs are most commonly given daily and are usually used long term. Different individuals responds better to different medications so we may try different types of anti-inflammatories to see which suits your pet better. In severely painful cases or as the disease progresses we will add in other pain killers which work alongside the anti-inflammatories. Regular blood & urine tests are recommended for dogs on these medications because they can have some impact on liver and kidneys. 
We also offer acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain as there is good evidence for its benefits in osteoarthritis cases. Laser therapy and soft tissue massage may also be helpful so we work very closely with a local veterinary physiotherapist (Pawfit).

B is for Bodyweight

If your pet is overweight we will discuss a weight reduction diet. If your pet is overweight, extra stress is placed onto the diseased joints and the condition is made far worse. Additionally, we now know that excess body fat releases hormones that promote inflammatory making all inflammatory conditions, including arthritis, worse. Overweight pets will usually join a veterinary nurse-lead weight watchers club. Losing weight is often the most important treatment for arthritis​.

C is for Comfort

Sore stiff joints and tight muscles may be familiar to some of our owners as well as their pets. Touch, gentle heat and a comfy bed can really help a pet get up and going. Memory foam mattresses stop excessive pressure on sore joints and also insulate these areas overnight keeping them warm and comfortable.

D is for Disease Modification

Although we cannot cure arthritis we can use several therapies to try and slow or reveres some of the changes in the joints. We are constantly adapting to new techniques as the research in this area is ongoing. We now have a number of effective treatments we can try that have good research data to back them up.

  • Cartophen (Pentosan Polysulphate
    Cartrophen Vet is a prescription only, injectable, polysulfated polysaccharide of plant origin. It has a number of actions on the process of arthritis - stimulates cartilage production, improves quantity and quality of joint fluid, increases blood supply and nutrition to the joint, to name just a few. Dogs usually start with 4 weekly injections and then we asses response and consider a longer term treatment regime.

  • Omega 3 oils and other nutraceuticals
    There is increasing evidence of the anti-inflammatory effects of Omega 3 and we are using them in numerous inflammatory conditions such as skin disease, gut disease and kidney disorders. Flex Care is our preferred supplement as it also has high levels of Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM and Green Lipped Mussel reducing the need to give multiple different tablets. It's a palatable liquid that is added to your pet's food.
  • Platelet Rich Plasma Regenerative Therapy
    This is similar process to stem cell therapy where we use the body's own regenerative abilities to stimulate regrowth and repair of tissue. We harvest these special molecules from the patient's own blood stream using specialised filters and they are injected into sites to promote healing - they are currently used for ligaments, tendons and cartilage. This process has to be done under general anaesthesia and is commonly carried out at the same time as taking X-rays.

E is for Exercise

It's important to exercise your pet to keep them fit and prevent obesity even if they have arthritis. Exercise builds muscles that help support loose joints and helps reduce stiffness. However, overdoing exercise is to be avoided. For this reason, it's better to have multiple shorter walks and lead exercise is better than running, jumping and chasing games.

F is for Physiotherapy

Ok, that is stretching the alphabet a little, but physiotherapy is proving to be a very important tool in reducing pain and increasing mobility in our patients. We work very closely with Heather Veneables, who started with us her as a trainee veterinary nurse but who has gone on to gain advanced nursing qualifications and a degree in veterinary physiotherapy. Heather offers treatments such as massage, laser therapy and exercise planning to help with a range of orthopaedic conditions.

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