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All about Arthritis

Arthritis literally means inflammation of a joint, although we often use it to describe
OSTEOARTHRITIS or DEGENERATIVE JOINT DISEASE - an extremely common problem in
dogs and cats (as in their owners!). In most cases arthritis occurs secondary to a lifetime of
wear and tear although we also see it in younger animals following damage to a joint (e.g. a
ruptured cruciate ligament) or due to malformation of a joint such as that seen with hip
In an arthritic joint the normally super-smooth cartilage lining the bones of the joint becomes
scarred and thinned. The resulting increased friction leads to inflammation. In addition the
movement of the joint becomes limited due to thickening of the fibrous capsule surrounding the
joint and due to the formation of rough new bone (osteophytes) around the edge of this capsule.
Nerves in the capsule and bone become inflamed leading to pain for the animal.

Unfortunately osteoarthritis is not always easy to spot. By its nature it creeps on slowly, so
animals tend to learn to cope with the soreness without showing any obvious pain. Some dogs
and cats can appear to be very stoical about the pain from arthritis- often it is only once the pain
has been treated that owners realise how uncomfortable their pet has been.
Some commonly seen signs of arthritis include:
Lameness, stiffness and difficulty getting up (usually worse after resting,
especially first thing in the morning or following a long walk. Cold or damp days are
often worst.
Less willing to charge around on a walk, looking to come home or sit down sooner than usual. Occasionally an animal will cry in pain - particularly if they have over-exercised or slipped awkwardly. Spotting the problem can be even more difficult in cats, although we are diagnosing it more and
more. A reluctance to exercise and play, while losing their ability to jump up to, or down from
heights can sometimes be the only signs. Occasionally cats can become quite miserable and
grumpy with the condition.
So we can often be suspicious of arthritis from changes you have noticed. A veterinary
examination may reveal changes such as joint swelling, crepitus (a grating sensation) on
movement of the joint, reduced range of motion and pain, although x-rays under sedation or
general anaesthetic
tend to be the best way to diagnose the condition. They are also useful to
stage the progression of the disease and help to rule out other problems such as fractures and
What can I do for my arthritic pet?

Weight Control
Fortunately there are now many medications, food supplements and other treatments, which can help
arthritis. However probably the most important thing you can do for your pet is to make sure he/she is
not overweight. In most cases arthritis is due to wear and tear so it is no surprise that arthritis is most
common in overweight dogs and cats. We can give the best, most expensive, medication in the world to
a fat cat or dog and it will only do so much.
For an overweight pet, carrying a few extra kilos can mean literally the difference between life
and death - between a few extra years of good quality life and the necessity for euthanasia.

As most arthritic animals are older and less active, reducing their normal food by a quarter or a third may
not help much - you just end up with a very hungry pet! Changing their diet to a veterinary low calorie
food is usually the only way to get anywhere. There are now several available in dry and tinned forms so
there is bound to be one that your cat or dog will like. With any diet the most important thing is regular
weight checks to monitor progress. We have free nurse clinics available, where your pet can be
weighed and the different diet foods discussed - please take advantage of this service. After the right
diet, regular weight checks are the most important factor in achieving and maintaining successful
weight loss.

Initially, if the joints are very sore rest is important to prevent further damage and reduce inflammation.
However it is important to maintain joint mobility, so for dogs regular controlled exercise should be
used as soon as possible- short lead walks to start with, then building slowly to more normal levels. The
aim is to find a level that the dog can cope with on a regular basis, without causing stiffness afterwards -
2-3 short walks through the day are usually better than one long one. What must be avoided is inactivity
during the week then a long run at the weekend. A lot of pain and stiffness on Monday will be the
inevitable result. A dog on a walk is full of excitement and adrenaline - he doesn't stop to consider what
he will feel like the next day, so don't keep throwing the ball for him because he seems to be having a
good time.
Non-weight bearing exercise - i.e. swimming - is a good way to build up muscle. Ponds and rivers are
ok in warm weather and there are indoor heated pools now available for dogs. Details of local pools are
available from reception.
Cats will also benefit from regular exercise. Get some good toys to initiate play sessions every day.
Supplements and feeding
Certain diets can be very useful for arthritic pets – Hills Pet foods produce a Prescription Diet called
J/D for dogs and cats, which is clinically proven to ease aching joints and help maintain healthy cartilage
to improve quality of life. It is a complete balanced food that should be fed long term, with results being
seen in as little as 21days. As with all Hills foods there is a 100% money back guarantee if your pet
doesn’t like it. The canine j/D diet is also available in a reduced calorie “light” formula for those arthritic
dogs that also need to lose some weight.
Nutritional supplements are also available for dogs. These work with your pet’s natural systems to help
maintain normal function in joints and tendons. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are proteins found in the
cartilage and fluid of joints. They seem to improve arthritis in people and have been used successfully for
many years in animals. Green Lipped Mussel extract can also be very effective. These products are
called neutraceuticals rather than drugs as they have no effect on metabolism, so are very safe to give.
They are most useful in early or mild cases, or when used in combination with other treatments such as
NSAIDS, to help reduce the dose of drug needed
As with people, the most effective medications for arthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(fortunately NSAIDs for short). Ibuprofen and aspirin are the most well known human tablets of this class
- but don’t give then to your pet. They are very toxic - especially ibuprofen. As their name suggests,
NSAIDs reduce inflammation, though they also have a very strong pain killing effect.
There are a variety of different NSAIDs available for animals. The ones we use most commonly are
Metacam (a liquid which is added to the food once daily), and Rimadyl (a tasty treat-like tablet given
twice daily), although others are also available. Like Ibuprofen and Aspirin stomach upsets can occur
with these medications- normally within 3-7 days of starting treatment. Administering them with food
makes this less likely to occur. NSAIDS get to work very quickly to make your pet more comfortable and
after a few weeks the dose can often be reduced and can be adjusted up and down according to how the
animal is feeling (on the vet’s advice). At the correct dose NSAIDS can be used on a long-term basis,
with many animals receiving them effectively for years. As with any medication, side effects may occur in
some patients. Feel free to discuss this with us.
Another treatment we sometimes use is an injection called Cartrophen. This contains a polymer, which
binds to cartilage improving its function as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect in the joints. The
treatment is started with a course of four weekly injections into the scruff of the neck and can be
repeated as often as necessary - normally every 6-24 months. Cartrophen cannot be used in conjunction
with NSAIDs.


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