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Our Guide to Osteoarthritis

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With advances in veterinary science, our pets are living longer. This means that they are more prone to age-related health issues such as Osteoarthritis. 

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What is Osteoarthritis?

Also known as degenerative joint disease, Osteoarthritis is a progressive and permanent condition which involves the inflammation of joints and the gradual deterioration of the cartilage in the joints.

It is quite typical that pets will develop some degree of Osteoarthritis as they age, as the wearing down of the cartilage is a process that happens naturally. Because of this, it is more common in older pets.

In some large breed dogs, developmental issues such as hip or elbow dysplasia are fairly common and can lead to Osteoarthritis developing at a young age. Trauma can also be a source of early-onset arthritis.

Does my pet have Osteoarthritis?

Typical symptoms include:

  • Slowness in getting up or changing position
  • Limping or lameness
  • Licking at joints
  • Pets may be grumpy or aggressive when touched in particular areas
  • Decrease in normal levels of activity
  • ‘Bunny hopping’ on their hind legs rather than walking normally (in dogs)
  • Reduced frequency or time spent grooming
  • Overgrown claws due to lack of activity

Some animals, especially cats, will try and hide any signs of weakness or pain so make sure you look out for changes in their activity levels or demeanour – this could include suddenly changing a favourite spot if it happens to be high up and difficult to get to, or showing a reluctance to go for a walk.

What can be done to help my pet?

If you suspect your pet has Osteoarthritis, then it’s important you bring them in to see us so we can confirm the diagnosis. We might do this using x-rays, but often our vets can diagnose just by performing a physical examination.

Some people consider Osteoarthritis as inevitable but fairly irrelevant part of aging and do not seek any treatment for it. Think carefully about this – what if it were you who was suffering from swollen, aching joints all the time? Wouldn’t you want help coping with it? Wouldn’t it make you miserable if you didn’t seek help?

Because Osteoarthritis is permanent and progressive, treatment involves managing the condition and its symptoms rather than curing it. The focus will be on improving your pet’s mobility and quality of life, as well as lessening any associated pain.

Being overweight can exacerbate the symptoms of Osteoarthritis by placing strain on the joints so it is advised that affected pets either lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

Even though pets may be reluctant to be energetic if they have arthritis, it is important that they still keep active. Hydrotherapy can be very helpful and has the added benefit of being low-impact, so reducing the stress on sore joints. Otherwise, just make sure they get a sensible amount of regular exercise and pay attention to at which point your pet starts to struggle.

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Obesity can lead to a number of issues later in life

Painkillers and anti-inflammatories may also be prescribed to help manage pain levels and reduce inflammation.

Supplements can be instrumental in preventing the onset of Osteoarthritis, as well as slowing down its advancement. You can give these from a young age, just as you may take cod liver capsules to ensure healthy joints for yourself.

In some cases, surgery may be an option. This can range from arthroscopic cleaning of a joint through to a complete replacement of a joint in extreme cases.

There are also a number of simple steps you can take to make life more comfortable for your pet:

  • Make sure beds are soft, deep and easy for them to get in and out of
  • Move beds out of the way from any drafts
  • Make provisions, such as ramps, to help pets get to their favourite spots if they struggle
  • Make sure that food, water, litter trays, etc are all available one level so pets don’t have to go up or downstairs
  • Groom arthritic pets and clip their nails more frequently

Monitor your pet’s condition as Osteoarthritis tends to get progressively worse – what works fine in terms of medication, etc. may need to be re-evaluated at a later date.

With your help and the correct management, Osteoarthritis needn’t make your pet’s life a misery and they can lead a happy life for many years to come.

Concerned that your pet may have Osteoarthritis? Come and see us. Find your local Medivet by using our online practice finder

Posted February 20, 2014 in Pet Care Advice

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