Osteoarthritis in dogs and cats
What is (osteo)osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthrosis is a chronic joint disease that affects both the soft tissue and bones of a joint, reduces joint flexibility and causes pain. The disease can affect any joint in your dog or cat's body, but the most affected joints are the following:
- The knee
- The elbow
- The wrist
- The vertebrae
- The hip
The most common form of osteoarthritis is secondary osteoarthritis that can be associated with trauma, inflammation, age, obesity and other factors. The symptoms also depend on the extent to which the cat or dog suffers from the disease. The most common symptoms are summarized below:
Stiffness, decreased activity, limping, reduced jumping from or at heights.
Lean walking, muscle decline, stiffness, difficulty standing up, significantly less jumping from or at heights.
Flabby walking, decreased activity, less movement, muscle decline, abnormal voice sounds, less spinning, pain, difficulty standing up, creaking joints, lethargy, no longer jumping from or on heights.
What can you do if you think your dog or cat is suffering from osteoarthritis?
Ask us to examine your cat or dog and advise you on the various treatment options.
How common is osteoarthrosis in cats and dogs?
In the past, it was wrongly thought that cats rarely suffer from joint problems and that the lack of mobility was simply part of ageing. However, we now know that this is not true and that at least 65% of older cats suffer from it. In dogs, we estimate that 1 in 5 dogs older than 1 year will suffer from osteoarthritis. Both purebred and crossbreed dogs can show symptoms of osteoarthrosis regardless of size, weight and age. Osteoarthrosis is more common in older dogs and larger breed dogs such as labradors, German shepherds, rottweilers, Bernese Mountain dogs, Great Danes and St. Bernards. However, osteoarthrosis can also occur in smaller breed dogs.
What are the symptoms of pain due to osteoarthrosis?
It is not easy to notice pain in pets. Dogs and cats are known to be "genetically programmed" not to show pain. Moreover, the way an individual demonstrates pain may differ depending on their age, health, character, breed and species. They may show pain through behavioural changes, such as:
- No attention to their environment (including owner/toys)
- Quickly irritated/less cheerful/less enthusiastic
- Hiding/pulling away
- Asking for more attention than usual
- Not eager to move/not eager to be walked/less jumping
- Abnormal tone of voice
- Showing aggressive or defensive behaviour when touched or petted
How do we make a diagnosis?
A vet diagnoses osteoarthritis as follows:
- A general examination and some questions to the owner
- An orthopedic examination which may include the presence of joint pain, swelling and tenderness.
- Any additional examination such as, for example, radiographs, joint puncture, bacterial culture and blood tests.
How can we help relieve pain?
Although much research is being done in the field of osteoarthrosis, it still cannot be cured to date. Therefore, treatment of osteoarthrosis focuses mainly on reducing pain and inflammation, slowing the progression of the disease, healing damaged tissue and maintaining or improving joint function. So we work with a (combination) therapy and this may include:
- Controlling weight;
- A proper diet/food supportive of the joints;
- Nutritional supplements;
- Controlled physical exercise and possibly physiotherapy;
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Analgesic medication
Why a special diet?
While we do not yet agree on whether obesity can be the cause of osteoarthrosis in dogs and cats, they do agree that being overweight can contribute to osteoarthrosis. It is a fact that joint problems worsen with excess weight. The greater the excess weight, the worse the problems. When a joint is not working properly, being overweight will cause more pain and increase the damage to the joint. It is therefore important that your cat/dog maintains its ideal weight. A separate diet is available from vets that improves mobility and protects joints from further damage.
This diet contains:
- High levels of omega-3 fatty acids and the correct ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 soothes the tissues around the joint
- EPA, a special omega-3 fatty acid. This moderates the effect of cartilage-destroying enzymes
- Natural glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate support cartilage repair
Limited calories and high L-carnitine content prevent weight gain and build supportive muscle mass. Of course, it is possible to start with nutritional supplements right away, if, for example, you do not want to/cannot abandon your dog's current diet. This also contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate. It also contains vitamin C (this tackles free radicals formed in the joint) and zinc sulphate (this is particularly important for cartilage production). The food supplement contains a higher concentration of glucosamines and chondroitin sulphate compared to the feed. For mild osteoarthritis, the feed may be adequate, but if osteoarthritis worsens, it may be necessary to switch to the dietary supplement.
Limit strain and moderate, controlled physical exercise!
The degree of exercise determines the severity of symptoms. Moderate and controlled exercise helps because:
- It counteracts obesity and preserves muscle mass
- It maintains strength and mobility
- It reduces the need for painkillers.
Regular, cautious physical exercise often helps. Twists and quick turns are not good. A dog and cat with osteoarthritis will benefit more from regular walks than activities that require a lot of exertion. Joints that are not used regularly can become stiff and this will make your dog or cat less active. Only in dogs can you control controlled movement by walks on a leash (straight-line movement) or by more comprehensive exercise such as swimming. Swimming is good because more muscle mass is created and this supports the joint. Because swimming is a low-impact form of exercise, it will not worsen the pain in the joint.
NSAIDs: anti-inflammatory and analgesic medication
Osteoarthritis treatment aims to reduce pain and stiffness and improve quality of life. To achieve this, anti-inflammatory drugs that are not steroid based (such as prednisone) are used just as for humans. This medication reduces the production of substances in the body that cause both pain and inflammation. It is important to start this early to prevent the development of more pain.
If you continue treatment over a longer period, there are benefits. This is because osteoarthritis is a continuous, degenerative process and consistent treatment will prevent relapse. There is also a new drug, which provides continuous pain control after a single administration for a full month (except for the first dose, which must be repeated after 14 days). Persistent and long-term pain control allows your dog to return to his normal active lifestyle. Through these effective and safe treatment methods, your dog and cat will receive the most optimal management of osteoarthritis. In this way, your dog or cat will feel better (quickly) and will function at an acceptable level, with much less or no pain.
Do you have any questions following the above information? If so, please contact us.