Osteoarthritis (OA) is more frequent in dogs than in cats. Having said that, recent studies (2008) reveal that 80% of cats over 12 years have OA. Initial onset in dogs is dependent on the breed: Rottweilers at 3,5 years whilst Poodles show symptoms at 9,5 years. Developmental orthopaedic conditions and associated OA account for 70% of veterinary visits for joint conditions or related problems in the limbs. Of this, 22% are younger than one year!

With these statistics in mind, OA makes a large contribution to small animal private practice. With the advent of Dr. Google more people are searching the internet for information and treatment and are no longer satisfied with simply using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Now, more than ever, is the time to become proactive and offer your clients more options.

For the OA patient, pain free mobility is a significant issue. The role of the synovial fluid is to lubricate moving articular surfaces, as well as to supply nutrients to avascular cartilage. A physiological mechanism exists called the trans-synovial pump, which aids in the formation and drainage of synovial fluid in the joint. The pump is activated by both active and passive movement. Chondrocytes are totally dependent on synovial fluid to supply nutrients. Our exercise therapies, by their nature, stimulate and normalise this pump mechanism.

Animal rehabilitation practitioners are uniquely positioned to become your partner in the management of osteoarthritis in your clients’ companion animals. The following therapies available:


Swimming or underwater treadmill. The water buoys the body, supports the joints and allows for low impact exercise which is essential for maintaining joint mobility in these patients. The water creates resistance which aids in building muscle mass and reducing muscle atrophy.

Therapeutic Exercise

If the companion animal is not a candidate for hydrotherapy (for eg. phobic or cardiac insufficiency) then our veterinarians are trained to formulate an exercise program for these patients to enhance their quality of life. This may include gentle walking and weight shifting exercises.

Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Laser therapy is used to manage acute and chronic inflammation. It also enhances blood flow to affected areas. It is rapidly becoming a useful adjunct to medication.

Massage Therapy

Companion animals with osteoarthritis will develop compensatory movement patterns and often secondary soft tissue pain as a result of this. Massage helps to release these patterns, improves blood flow and relaxes muscular tissue, all of which contribute to management of pain.

Acupuncture and ElectroAcupuncture

With more scientific research being conducted in this area acupuncture and electroacupunture (EAP) have been indicated in the management of pain by stimulating the release of endorphins. Other neurotransmitters are also released, among these is serotonin, which has a major relaxation effect on patients.

Home Programs

Hip and elbow dysplasia are being diagnosed more frequently in younger dogs. After an initial assessment our team is able to formulate a home based exercise program, the success of which is monitored by our rehabilitation veterinarians using objective measurements such as thigh circumference and goniometry.