How Chronic Joint Pain Affects our Pets
Our pets can experience arthritis. Known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD), arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints in which there is a progressive loss of joint cartilage, bone spurs/growths, as well as thickening and scarring of connective tissue around the joints. In many cases, this occurs in the aftermath of an injury.
These types of degenerative joint disorders affect roughly 25% of dogs, whereas some 90% of cats over 12 years old have some signs of osteoarthritis.
Arthritis is usually classified as either primary or secondary. Primary arthritis is normally related to aging, based on excessive wear and tear on the joints. Secondary arthritis is caused by some external cause, such as trauma, that affects the joint cartilage.
No cat or dog is immune to arthritis. Arthritis can affect any age, sex, and breed of dog and cat, and can be related to a variety of underlying causes, such as elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, and osteochondrosis.
Diagnosing Arthritis in our Pets
Arthritic diagnosis can occur during a physical exam by your Austin vet. This can involve a number of tests, such as diagnostic imaging, joint taps, cytology, force plate gain analysis, to name a few.
Arthritis and Dogs
For dogs, the most common sign of an arthritic condition is lameness. This often tends to be temporary at first, but it may become persistent over time. Stiffness is another symptom that may occur after your dog rests for a long period of time. The absence of stiffness and lameness may transpire after your dog engages in some sort of activity, such as exercise. If your dog over-exerts themself, then signs of pain, possible swelling and limited range of motion may be obvious. There may be thickening in the joints, a buildup of fluid in the joints and weakened muscles over time.
Arthritis and Cats
Compared to how arthritis can affect dogs, in cats you may notice that they become less active than normal over time. They may also be inclined to hide, become irritable and have difficulties with tasks such as using the litter box. Cats can also experience swelling in their joints and limited motion. Cats may also begin to groom themselves excessively in one specific area, which can help signify a specific arthritic pain.
Arthritis Testing for Cats and Dogs
Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging
By using Radiographs and CT scans, your Austin vet may be able to show any signs of excess fluid in the joints as well as bone spurs. This type of imaging can also show other possible disorders including elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans (a bone disease that results in necrosis), hip dysplasia (abnormalities in the hip joints), or cruciate ligament rupture (torn ligaments).
A force platform, or force plate gait analysis, can help your vet determine any signs of lameness within your dog’s joints. A force plate is a metal plate affixed to the floor, which a dog then walks or steps on. The pressure is them measured to determine which areas utilize the least amount of force to determine which joints are affected. This is used more frequently with dogs than cats.
Treating, Managing, and Preventing Arthritis
Sadly, there is no cure for arthritis. It’s a condition that our pets must live with, but, it can be treated with to help curb excessive pain. The main goal of any treatment is to help relieve any pain, stiffness, and discomfort that your pet may experience.
It’s also important to manage your pet’s weight. As your cat or dog gains weight, it can cause stress on their joints and muscles. If you have an overweight pet, it’s best to help them lose weight. Playing, walking and swimming (especially for dogs) can help your pets lose weight but also help improve their mobility and muscle mass.
Joint Supplements and Arthritis
Joint supplements (chondroprotective agents) such as glucosamine are also known to help dogs with cartilage issues and have anti-inflammatory effects. They can be taken orally or injected by your Austin vet. These supplements can help slow the breakdown of cartilage and also increase joint fluid secretion to help alleviate any inflammation.
Sometimes these supplements are not entirely successful. Much of this may have to deal with a lack of cartilage in the joint, meaning that bone may be touching bone. Other issues may include an unresponsive joint inflammation, and the inability of the drug to work if other medications are being used.
The injectable supplements may be more costly, but they offer a quicker response to the issue than most oral medications. Usually the injections take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks to take full effect.
Diet and NSAIDS
Inflammation may also be reduced if you provide a diet with omega-3 fatty acids. Some dietary supplements with fish oil omega-3 can help improve the onset of arthritis in dogs.
NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are helpful in combatting arthritis pain in Dogs. There are potential side effects to be aware of, such as stomach upset, elevated liver enzymes, and an increase in chronic kidney disease. Very few NSAIDs are approved for for cats, as they tend to be more sensitive to them than dogs.
Other types of therapy such as acupuncture, stem cell therapy, physical therapy, and rehab can be extremely beneficial for both cats and dogs.
If your cat or dog is not fully responsive to any of the above treatments, then surgery may be another option. Surgery has been used for varying types of arthritis, and some reconstructive operations can help to eliminate joint pain, and joint instability, joint incongruity and fractures, to name a few. This should only be considered if the arthritic conditions are so extreme that regular medication cannot help. Always consult with your vet about other options prior to venturing into surgical ones.
Monitoring and Prognosis
Your Austin vet will most likely conduct physical exams every 1-4 months to determine how your cat or dog is responding to whatever therapy your choose, and to see if the disease is worsening. If your pet is using NSAIDs, then your vet may perform blood tests, counts and profiles every few months, to check if any issues are present in their liver or kidneys.
If you have any questions, or suspect that your cat or dog may be experiencing arthritis or any type of mobility issues, please reach out to us.