Arthritis is comprised of two roots; arth meaning joint, and itis meaning inflammation. Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s response to remove damaged cells, irritants and infection to allow for the start of the healing process. Arthritis, however, is painful inflammation, accompanied by stiffness of the joints.
There are a number of types of arthritis but the most common in dogs and cats is osteoarthritis (OA). This implies involvement of the bones as well as the joints. OA is also referred to as degenerative joint disease (DJD) which is characterised by a loss of joint cartilage and subsequent exposure of the underlying bone. In a normal joint, there is balance between the continuous process of cartilage matrix degeneration and repair. In OA degeneration is winning!
OA Patients usually display:
- Limited activity levels
- Reduced performance
- Muscle wastage/atrophy
- Pain (varying degrees)
- Joint stiffness and a decrease in range of motion (ROM)
These symptoms result in a vicious cycle of pain, reduced activity, stiffness and loss of strength.
Signs of pain in cats and dogs:
- Increase in anxiety, sometimes showing agitation or rapid breathing
- Decrease in social interaction
- Increase in aggressiveness
- Diminished performance, they won’t want to go as far or as fast
- Changes in temperament
- Abnormal gait and body position
- Eating less, with a resulting loss of weight
- Decreased activity with weight gain
- Inappropriate elimination in the house
- Excessive chewing, biting or licking of an area or limb
- Difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, getting in and out of the litter box or car
- Resting more than usual
- Difficulty getting up from a lying position
- Failure to self groom
- Slow or stiff movements upon waking, or after rest or in cold weather
- Swollen joint(s) warm to the touch
- Personality changes such as your companion no longer likes to be touched
- Reluctance to walk, run, climb/descend stairs, jump or play
- Lagging behind on walks
- Reluctance to extend rear legs
- Inability to stretch
- Vocalisation on handling
- Unwillingness to play with other animal companions
Your companion may show one or more of these signs. Winter is approaching and signs can often become evident as the weather changes. Being aware can aid in an early diagnosis and intervention.
The mainstay of treatment is anti-inflammatory medicine however, a more holistic approach can reduce the need for these drugs and manage the pain associated with OA, as well as enhancing your companion’s quality of life.
Joints were made to move so the more mobile a joint, the healthier it is. Low impact exercise is advised in dogs diagnosed with OA. Hydrotherapy is the ideal exercise. Hydrotherapy will help to maintain muscle mass (which in turn support the joints), keep joints moving and aid with weight management. Affected companions which have an aversion for water need not be excluded from exercise. A gentle land-based program can be devised to aid movement. Massage and application of hot and cold packs have a role to play in the management of this condition.
Other options to investigate include joint supplements, specific diets, homeopathy, stem cell therapy, acupuncture and gold bead implants, magnetic therapy and Laser treatments.