Osteoarthritis, or arthritis, is a common condition in humans. But did you know it is very prevalent in our pets with up to 90% of cats over the age of 12 affected and around 80% in older dogs?
Often mistaken for ‘slowing down’ or ‘getting older’ osteoarthritis is a condition which affects the joints and surrounding tissues, including bone, cartilage and ligaments. It is a progressive disease with no cure and is often a reason for euthanasia due to its impact on quality of life. It is sometimes missed by owners due to the animal’s ability to adapt and cope with pain and delay these signs.
However, it can be noticed earlier by picking up on the subtle signs summarised below.
Your vet will perform a musculoskeletal exam following their normal clinical exam. This is to further diagnose arthritis by localising which joints are affected, or which are worse than others. The most commonly affected joints are the elbows, shoulders, hips, stifles (knees) and tarsi (ankles).
Your vet will look at posture, grinding within the joint (crepitus), reduced flexibility and mobility, loss of muscle mass, extra bone growth, inflammation including heat and swelling, pain and reflex responses.
Whilst not always necessary for a diagnosis of arthritis, X-rays are always useful to identify the cause and can be even more useful to rule out other diseases like fractures, bone infections and bone tumours as these will need to be treated differently.
Initially, your vet may look at modifying your pet’s diet, exercise and environment. It is important to have a good grounding with consistent short walks, non-slip surfaces, and memory foam beds to comfort their joints. For cats, placing a step next to window sills or their bed can be useful to discourage jumping. Ensuring your pet is at the correct weight will remove any additional strain on their joints, while supplements create a ‘reservoir’ for the joints to repair and reduce inflammation - check with your vet on their supplement recommendations.
When these are in place, your vet will discuss therapies and treatments, tailoring them to your pet’s needs. These can include laser therapy, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, massage therapy and/or acupuncture. Lastly there are anti-inflammatories and pain relief. Once your vet has prescribed these, it is important to arrange rechecks for your vet to assess whether the medication is enough or if more is needed. Blood tests will also be recommended as medication can have long term effects on the internal organs which need to be monitored.
If you’d like to learn more about arthritis you can visit icatcare.org or caninearthritis.co.uk. If you feel your pet may be exhibiting signs of arthritis, please contact your vet.
Written by veterinarian, Zoe Shelton-Smith