If the answer is “yes” your pet might have arthritis. Arthritis refers to a disorder of joints. It can have many causes, including infection, immune system disorders, cancer and trauma, but commonly refers to the degenerative changes occurring in joints. A more correct name is Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD).
What is DJD?
Degenerative Joint Disease refers to damage to the joint cartilage and adjacent bone caused by abnormal stresses on the joint. These stresses are due to an abnormality in the joint which may be inherited, such as Hip Dysplasia, or caused by trauma, such as an accident or years of wear and tear on hard-working joints. DJD is a chronic, progressive disorder characterised by cartilage damage, proliferation of new bone, and thickening of the joint capsule.
What are the signs of DJD?
Pain, stiffness, reluctance to exercise or to perform normal maneuvers such as jumping into the car are common signs of arthritis. Cold and/or damp weather may appear to make symptoms worse. The lameness or movement abnormality may be intermittent, aggravated by periods of exercise, or may disappear as the dog 'warms up'. It is commonly seen in medium to large breeds over the age of eight and in smaller breeds over the age of ten years. Cats can also get arthritis with similar symptoms being seen. It is common in cats over 12 years of age.
How is DJD diagnosed?
Your pet will need to be seen by one of our vets, with a physical examination to determine the range of movement in a joint, any joint thickening or crepitus (a crunching/crackling feeling while manipulating the joint) and the degree of pain.
An X-ray picture may be needed to show the amount of new bone production, bone re-modeling and other changes adjacent to the joint, narrowing of the joint space, and sometimes increased amounts of joint fluid.
It may be advised to sample the joint fluid to rule out other causes of joint pain such as infection, and immune-mediated problems, as these have specific treatments.
How is DJD treated?
The treatment depends on many factors including the underlying cause, the age of the dog, degree of bony changes present, and amount of pain and disability the condition is causing.
Surgery to correct underlying deformities, to stabilise joints affected by ligament ruptures, or to alleviate discomfort. The success of surgery depends on the condition being treated and the amount of degenerative changes already present. Surgery may also be indicated in some severe cases such as to remove the hip, or fuse the affected joint (arthrodesis).
Medical treatment options include:
Pain relieving anti-inflammatories - non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) There are several safe, very effective NSAIDs formulated for animals that can be prescribed by your vet. Never give your dog human NSAID medications such as panadol, aspirin or nurofen as they are potentially toxic with side effects including gastrointestinal upsets and ulcers, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, blood abnormalities, kidney and liver failure.
Chondroprotective agents – medications that both stimulate cartilage repair and inhibit ongoing cartilage damage by inhibiting various destructive enzymes and prostaglandins found in arthritic joints. These drugs may also help by increasing the production of normal compounds within the joint which act as lubricants and protectants/strengtheners for the cartilage surface. There are injectable and oral forms of these drugs.
Other important factores include:
Diet – weight reduction reduces stresses on the joint. Many arthritic older pets are over weight which makes the problem seem worse.
Exercise modification – gentle on-lead exercise without periods of free running. Swimming is also a good exercise for dogs with DJD as it strengthens the muscles and ligaments surrounding joints without the stresses of weight-bearing exercise.
Soft Bedding - Arthritis symptoms are always worse in the winter months so make sure your dog has a nice comfortable bed in a warm and easy to access place.
A warm coat in winter - Being cold makes arthritic pain worse, a coat can help to prevent this. Riverbank Animal Hospital stocks the full range of Weatherbeeta dog coats. Click here to learn more.
Contact the friendly health care team at Riverbank Animal Hospital in South Grafton for advice about your dog's condition. There are many different treatment options available. Our senior vet Dr Chris Gough has a particular interest in senior pet wellbeing and will help you decide which treatment or combination will be most effective for the ongoing care and wellbeing of your pet.