Arthritis is unfortunately a common ailment in both dogs and cats. It results from many different problems such as orthopedic trauma (fractures of bones and joints), surgery (ACL tears, dislocating kneecaps and hips), congenital and developmental problems (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia), and immune system problems. As this disease is often progressive, its identification and treatment should begin as soon as possible in order to give the patient as good a quality of life as possible.
Any pet is at risk for developing arthritis, especially the older ones. Certain breeds, such as Corgis, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, and Bulldogs, are often predisposed to this aggravating condition due to their conformation. Working breeds and athletic pets can place intense pressure on their joints throughout their lifetime that can set up arthritis in the future. Overweight pets also over stress their joints. Some patients who have metabolic conditions such as Diabetes mellitus, Cushing's syndrome, and hypothyroidism are at increased risk for developing arthritis.
The most common clinical signs for arthritis are pets who are slow to get up and down after a period of prolonged rest. Many patients "warm out" as they move about throughout the day. A reluctance to run, jump, and climb steps has also been described. Cats may show signs of arthritis by becoming more reclusive, decreased litter box usage, less grooming, and being more irritable.
It is important to rule out other problems as a diagnosis for arthritis is sought. Radiographs and physical examination are the top tests to utilize for an accurate diagnosis. An exam may show a decreased range of motion in a joint as well as crepitation, or a grinding felt within a joint. Pain may or may not be elicited. Radiographs may show swelling within the joint as well as bone "spurs." Early in the disease process, arthritis may go unnoticed. It is important to rule out other problems that may mimic arthritis such as bone or joint cancer, ACL disease, and even tick-borne illness.
Treatment often involves weight loss as a majority of patients are overweight. Joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin have had a great impact on this disease. A main stay treatment are the NSAID class of drugs. These medications block the pathway for inflammation and therefore decrease pain. If pain is severe, stronger medications such as opiods may be needed. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, cold laser therapy, stem cell therapy, and massage have shown promise. It may be difficult to treat cats as they do not tolerate most NSAID medicines.
If you suspect that your pet may have arthritis, have them checked over. Pets often do not show the same level of pain that humans do. In fact they are great at hiding their misery. A simple exam and tests can put your friend on the path to health, wellness, and comfort.