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Canine and Feline Osteoarthritis – A Hidden Disease

Arthritis is a complex condition involving inflammation of joints. It can affect any joint in the body. There are many different types of arthritis, with the most common one being Osteoarthritis (OA), otherwise known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). OA can be primary, or secondary to conditions causing joint instability such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate ligament rupture, and so forth.

What causes Osteoarthritis?

  • Excess weight – Fat, as well as causing extra strain on the joints, is actually metabolically active. It produces substances known as inflammatory cytokines which affect the bones, joints and muscles of the body.
  • Age – The older a pet is, the more “use” their joints have had. General wear and tear on the joints can lead to arthritis. It is important to take note of any change in your pet’s behaviour as this can be a clue as to how their joints are coping.

What are the signs of Osteoarthritis?

  • Decreased activity
  • Stiffness
  • Lameness
  • Difficulty rising from rest
  • Reduced ability to jump
  • Painful reaction when touched in the affected area

Cats (Signs are more subtle and difficult to assess)

  • Reduced ability to jump and/or reduced activity in general
  • Difficulty going up or down stairs
  • Avoiding interacting with people or other animals
  • Changed grooming habits and/or toileting habits – more accidents
  • Hiding

How do I manage Osteoarthritis in my pet?

Address obesity
If necessary, we will have to reduce your pet’s weight as the first step. This may mean going on a diet. Your veterinarian will let you know what your pet’s ideal weight is, and if you will need to focus on this. From now on, we will need to monitor your pet to ensure the ideal weight is maintained.

We recommend feeding a diet rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) to dogs and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) to cats. These are omega-3 fatty acids which stop the cycle of damage by reducing inflammation and cartilage degradation.
An ideal diet should have a low omega-6 to omega-3 ratio for dogs. It should also contain the building blocks of cartilage (glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate), antioxidants, and a high level of L-carnitine to sustain optimal weight and joint health. Because the efficacy of these diets are often reliant on the precise ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, any other foods fed to your pet will affect this ratio. Therefore, it is important that if you choose to feed your pet a prescription diet it will need to be the only food offered. Both Hills and Royal Canin offer dietary options for pets with Osteoarthritis.

There are a variety of neutraceuticals available which claim to ease the apparent pain and discomfort related to osteoarthritis. Please come in and chat with our staff about which one
could be suitable for your pet.

Supportive Care at home

Soft bedding, and beds that are easy to get in and out of are important. Some people find the pet-electric blankets help, and others swear by magnets. Warmth increases the blood
flow to the joints, so on those evenings in front of the TV hold a wheat bag or a hot water bottle over your pet’s sore joints.
Use mats or rugs on wooden floors as much as possible as it reduces the amount of slipping and sliding. Use ramps to help pets enter cars, climb steps, or reach their favourite resting
place. Place food bowls and litter trays in places where the pet doesn’t have to jump or climb stairs to access them.

Controlled exercise
It is important that your pet still gets exercised. This will help to maintain the strength of the muscles that are supporting the joints, keep tendons and ligaments flexible, prevent obesity  and promote blood circulation to those stiff joints. However, you will need to reassess the type of exercise your pet is doing.

Low-impact activities like walking and swimming are ideal. Keep each bout short but regular – 15-30 minutes of activity 5 days a week is a good start. Try to keep away from walking on
concrete as much as possible – instead keep to the grass verges or parks. Swimming is fantastic for those dogs who love the water, as the bodyweight is supported and there are
no sudden excessive movements. A word of caution though: you may need to carry them if there are large rocks to navigate on the river’s edge, and be aware of extra-large waves that
may do more harm than good!

Cats won’t be keen to get in the water but you can encourage short sessions of gentle play.

Remember to avoid activities in which your pet has to leap, run, jump or turn quickly. These actions can cause damage to their joints.

Warm up is important as well. Do 1-2 minutes of walking or gentle playing before starting the low-impact activities. This helps reduce sprains, cramps and muscle injuries. If they are
reluctant to start moving you may find a healthy treat and of course plenty of praise is a good incentive.

Cooling down must follow any exercise. Try to calm them down and gradually reduce their heart rate. Massage during this time improves the stiffness and muscle pain as well.

Pain relief medication
It is important that we select these with care since some pets are more sensitive than others to the potential side-effects of analgesics. The most common side-effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (such as
Rimadyl/Carprieve and Trocoxil in dogs, and Meloxicam in cats) are decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea. We sometimes add in an opioid analgesic to the mix, namely Tramadol or Codeine. The most common side-effects seen with this are sedation and constipation.

Most pets will have pre-medication blood tests to make sure that they can safely metabolize and excrete the medication and then periodic blood tests to ensure continued safe usage. If you have any concerns following the administration of any medication we have prescribed, please discontinue them and contact us immediately.

Monoclonal Antibody Injections
Monoclonal antibodies are proteins that are formulated in a laboratory that mimic antibodies found in the body. They have isolated one of the main players in the pain pathway (Nerve Growth Factor) and now have created a medication to turn this off.

These injections are called Beransa (for dogs) and Solensia (for cats). They are given once a month in the clinic by either a nurse or a veterinarian. The best thing about them is that there are minimal side effects so they can be used in elderly pets, or pets taking other medications, without issue. We have been seeing some great results with this medication.

Acupuncture and Laser Therapy
Our clinic offers acupuncture as part of your pet’s arthritis management regime. Acupuncture is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), developed in China over 3000 years ago. It involves the insertion of small needles into specific points on the body, in order to reduce pain and stimulate healing. Animals receiving acupuncture tolerate the needles very well, with many cats also accepting treatment. It is not uncommon for patients to become relaxed once the needles are in place and resting during their session.

Acupuncture sessions generally last 30-40minutes, and are repeated on average weekly for 4-6 weeks. Acupuncture is compatible and is often used alongside conventional medicine in
the management of pain and arthritis.

Lasers produce intense beams of light at specific wavelengths. When the right wavelength at the right intensity is used, the light can penetrate into the tissues up to a depth of 5cm, stimulating the cells that help repair tissue, in addition to reducing inflammation and pain.

The most common conditions treated with laser therapy are:

  • Osteoarthritis, with the elbow and knee being particularly responsive.

  • Intervertebral disc disease (ranging from back pain to paralysis). Studies have shown that cases with paralysis will improve faster with the use of laser treatment, relieving pain and also improving nerve regeneration. This is most effective if treatment is started early.
  • Tendon, ligament and muscular injuries.
  • Pain management for trauma and post surgical wounds.

If you are interested in either of these options please contact the clinic.


This is another useful adjunct therapy that can help with rehabilitation after injury or surgery. Kate’s K9 Help and Swim Fitness is a local business with an underwater treadmill.
We are happy to refer your dog to her if we feel it would help with their recovery.

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