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My dog has arthritis, what can I do?

Arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD) is a progressive and permanent deterioration of the articular cartilage in joints.

Just like humans, dogs commonly suffer from arthritis. This condition can affect more than one in five dogs and occurs due to the cumulative effect of abnormal stressors placed on the joints. These abnormal stressors are usually due to abnormal alignment of the bones, trauma, ageing or obesity as the joint must carry a larger load than it is supposed to.

Clinical signs of arthritis may include any of the following: reluctance to walk, climb stairs, jump or play, limping, lagging behind on walks, difficulty rising from a rest position, yelping in pain when touched, personality changes, appetite change (inappetant or obsessed with food).

In order to correctly make a diagnosis of arthritis a full musculoskeletal examination must first be done to rule out any other causes of lameness or lethargy (eg. pancreatitis, liver disease, infections or fractures). This includes palpation of all muscles, bones and joints as well as specific tests to look for laxity of tendons and ligaments.

X-rays should also be done and these can give important information about which joints are effected and how far the disease has progressed. From this information, we know what treatments should be instituted to give the best results.

There are several treatment options available for arthritis, these include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (to reduce pain & inflammation & slow down the progression of the joint degradation), pentosan / cartrophen / synovan / zydax injections (increase joint fluid production & help restore cartilage within the joint), natural supplements such as glucosamines & chondroitin (Sasha's Blend, Seaflex treats, PAW Osteosupport treats, Joint Guard, Pernease powder, etc), weight loss (one of the MOST important factors to regulate to help treat arthritis), padded but supportive bedding and regular, gentle exercise. A fantastic diet is available called Hills j/d. This is a prescription diet containing a unique fatty acid (EPA) that modifies the genes to block the enzyme causing cartilage degradation. Many dogs experience significant pain relief whilst on this diet. In-clinic use of STEM CELLS can sometimes be used as another treatment option for dogs with advanced arthritis. This involves harvesting stem cells from the dog's own body fat then activatinig them & injecting them into the affected arthritic joints. The draw back is the long anaesthetic required for these patients (particularly in older pets). Long term improvement hasn't always been seen with this method of treatment.

Class 4 laser therapy is a new treatment modality that has been showing promising outcomes / relief against the pain of arthritis with regular treatments. The laser penetrates deep into tissue to stimulate blood supply & help repair tissue & reduce scarring. It can be used post operatively around wounds or as regular therapy for osteoarthritis. It is also shows promising results when used to treat ear infections & non-healing wounds. 

Shorter, more regular exercise / walks are advised for arthritic animals. Avoid ball chasing, stairs & jumping as this can lead to very sore joints later after the exercise has completed & the dog is resting. Ramps or stategically positioned furniture may be needed to help arthritic cats get up high onto surfaces. Putting the food & water bowls onto a step or raised platform can help reduce pain in pets that have arthritis in their spine / neck. Swimming is great exercise for arthritic pets but don't overdo it & ensure your pet can get into & out of the water easily.