Osteoarthritis is a condition that is usually associated with ageing joints or those which have been placed under unusual stresses from less than ideal conformation or from injuries. In our pets it causes joint stiffness and soreness, difficulty rising from a lying position, inability to jump or climb stairs and a dull, chronic, throbbing pain. Arthritic joints are ‘dry’ joints – movement causes friction and the associated inflammation causes pain.
Many owners of arthritic pets see the condition as normal ageing – “He/she doesn’t move around as much anymore because he/she is getting old”. Age itself is not a disease, and this ‘sign of ageing’ can be managed and the pain alleviated for a great majority of our pets through various supplement, medications and long term management.
There are hundreds of supplements available which contain such ingredients as fatty acids, seaweed and kelp, green-lipped mussels, shark cartilage etc. Sasha’s blend and JointGuard are good quality examples of these supplements. They can be helpful in very early stages of arthritis, as they are thought to help with joint health, so can be continued alongside other treatments.
All pets respond to supplements in different ways so if you are inclined to try some then we encourage you to see if they help your pet – never substitute these treatments for true medical management of pain in your pet – use them as an adjunct if you feel they are working but always make sure your pet’s pain is controlled using anti-inflammatories or veterinary prescribed treatments – supplements are not money well spent if you pet is still in pain.
Poly-sulphated glycosaminoglycans are compounds which help increase the amount of joint fluid the body produces – they improve lubrication in dry arthritic joints and produce pain relief in this way. Because of the increased lubrication they can, to some extent, slow down the progression of arthritis.
One example is Pentosan injections – one injection is given under the skin each week for four weeks – a booster is then given one month later, then two months later etc until we find a point at which the pet starts to get stiff just before the injection. Some pets need boosters every 3 weeks, others just every 6 months depending on the severity of their arthritis and their response to the medication.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce joint inflammation and pain – they make movement more comfortable for your pet and so result in increased mobility and improved demeanour and appetite. High doses over long periods may result in gastrointestinal ulceration – this is why your vet will always prescribe the lowest dose necessary of the safest medications to control the pain.
How will I know if treatment is working?
Your pet should show an increase in mobility, greater ease in rising from a lying position, a willingness to go for walks, renewed interest in favourite ball games, an increased ability to jump up or climb the stairs, a happier demeanour and/or and increased appetite.
Sometimes we don’t realise how much pain our pets are in until that pain has been relieved – it is worth a trial on some medications to see how much of a difference they make.
Long term Management
Your pet should be examined at least every six months by your vet to ensure that they are handling the medication course well – this also provides an additional opportunity to pick up any other problems an ageing pet may be developing.
A blood test every six months for pets on long term NSAIDS ensures that any side effects of increased liver or kidney enzymes can be detected early and the medication course adjusted.
Ongoing exercise is important, but a reduced length and increased frequency as well as some stretches your vet can show you, will help joints stay as mobile as possible.