Arthritis in pets: the causes and treatment of this ailment.
Arthritis means inflammation of joints. There are many causes of arthritis in pets. It is usually seen in senior pets.
What causes arthritis?
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA) which is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). This can be primary, the cause of which is unknown and secondary, following conditions involving joint instability. Some common causes of DJD include hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament rupture (ACL injury), and luxating patellas (loose kneecaps).
Rheumatoid arthritis is an uncommon immune mediated, erosive, inflammatory condition. Cartilage and bone are eroded within affected joints and the condition can progress to complete joint fixation, (ankylosis). It may affect single joints or multiple joints may be involved (polyarthritis). In certain dog breeds Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) factors can be detected with blood tests.
Other types of immune mediated arthritis can be non-erosive, such as arthritis that is associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE). SLE is often accompanied by other clinical signs, such as skin lesions, in addition to the arthritis.
Infective or septic arthritis can be caused by a variety of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Septic arthritis normally only affects a single joint and the condition results in swelling, fever, heat and pain in the joint. Before long your pet is likely to stop eating and become depressed.
How do we treat arthritis?
Treatment will depend on the cause of arthritis. Immune mediated and rheumatoid arthritis are usually treated with high doses of corticosteroids which often lead to a dramatic response. The maintenance of these conditions often involves the long-term use of corticosteroids and other drugs such as immunosuppressive or cytotoxic agents.
Septic arthritis is treated with antibiotics, usually based on a test called a Culture and Sensitivity. Antibiotics are usually administered for a minimum of a month and analgesics are also necessary to combat pain and inflammation.
Analgesics (pain medications) and anti-inflammatories are the most common form of treatment for osteoarthritis. It is important to select these medications with care since some dogs are more sensitive than others to the potential side-effects. Aspirin (ASA) is not longer recommended because it can cause decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Newer analgesics such as Metacam have fewer side effects than aspirin, and can often be safely prescribed. Our patients will have pre-medication blood tests before starting arthritis medications, to make sure that they can safely metabolize and excrete the medication. Afterwards, periodic blood tests to ensure continued safe usage.
Non-drug treatments for arthritis include chondroprotectants (joint protection agents) such as Cartrophen and/or glucosamine or UBA-Vet. Cartrophen is more effective than glucosamine, so is often used initially for treatment. Glucosamine or UBA- Vet is prescribed for long-term administration. Please note that it takes about one month to see if glucosamine is working or not, and it must be given daily to work, not just when the dog is having a flare-up!
If the pet is overweight, a prescription reducing diet will help it lose weight so there is less strain on the joints. Weight control is a critical part of managing the arthritic patient. Some animals respond to weight loss alone as a treatment!
Phototherapy is a new treatment for soft tissue disease in humans and animals. The light stimulates healing of tissues, and helps relieve pain. We have a local human massage therapist that is available to administer these treatments in our hospital if you’re interested.
Rehab (called physiotherapy in humans) exercises help animals with OA a lot! We can refer you to the Univ of Guelph or a private clinic in Puslinch, or one in Kitchener, for a consultation, if you’re interested.
If you want to try it yourself at home, here are some resources on line you can check out:
Information about physiotherapy in general
A variety of Rehab videos
Passive Range of Motion Exercises
Physical Therapy for the Hind Limb
Physical Therapy for the Front Limb
An article on Rehab for pets