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Arthritis A Sore Subject

ARTHRITIS:  A Sore Subject

Mark Hale, DVM-Bolivar, MO


Arthritis is a condition resulting in painful joints.  It is extremely common in older pets, especially the larger breeds of dogs.  Any joint can be affected with arthritis.  The most commonly affected joints include the hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, and vertebral column (back).  It is estimated that arthritis affects one in five adult dogs?or more than 8 million in the U.S.


Arthritis may be a result of an injury or may develop for unknown reasons.  Frequently it is progressive (worsens with time).  It may develop slowly or quickly.  Often it begins with occasional sore days, sometimes associated with weather changes or strenuous exercise.  Clinical signs in most pets are often worse when they first get up and start to move.  Overweight pets are most susceptible.


Many clinical signs may be a result of arthritis and the related pain it causes.  Signs may include lack of appetite, reluctance to walk, climb stairs or play, limping, lagging behind on walks, difficulty in rising from a resting position, personality changes, or even crying aloud when the pain is severe.  Animals don't moan or whimper until the pain becomes very severe.


Other diseases must be ruled out before a diagnosis of osteoarthritis can be made.  Potential rule-outs include disc disease, ligament tears, bone infections, and nerve damage.  X-rays are often necessary to obtain the correct diagnosis.


There is no need to let your pet suffer the intense pain that can be attributed to arthritis.  Strategies for treatment of arthritis may be either proactive or reactive.  Proactive involves therapy, which increases the body's ability to cope with the problem.  Drugs and exercise to improve and strengthen muscle mass can help.  Nutraceuticals to increase the joint fluid (lubrication) within the affected joints are available.  Reactive treatment includes drugs designed to minimize pain and inflammation.  Pets do not tolerate human anti-inflammatories such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenolรค as well as people.  Recent advancements in drugs for treating arthritis in pets have greatly enhanced our ability to control the pain of osteoarthritis.  Drugs such as Rimadyl? or Previcox? are commonly prescribed.


It is important to work closely with your veterinarian to minimize side effects of these drugs.  Periodic comprehensive physical examinations and blood testing is necessary to monitor the body's response to any long-term medication. 


EXERCISE HELPS.  Regular, moderate exercise is very important in keeping joints working properly.  Over-exertion can make the condition worse.  Swimming is great exercise for arthritic pets.  Exercise can also help prevent obesity.  Obesity can greatly contribute to the occurrence and severity of arthritis pain.  Feeding an appropriate diet in the correct amounts is paramount in arthritis treatment.


If you have any questions regarding the proper care of your pet, please contact your veterinarian