Arthritis affects humans and animals in similar ways. You may notice your dog isn't as active as he once was or he doesn't move as quickly. He might start having trouble with steps or getting up from a laying position. He may or may not whimper or pant in pain. What many people consider pets just getting older or showing their age may be attributed to arthritis, and can be treated in order to maintain a better quality of life for your pet.
Arthritis is not one specific disease. It is a term for the inflammation of a joint or joints caused by a disease or injury. It can be seen as a problem on its own or as a symptom of another, possibly even more serious condition. Two main kinds of arthritis are found in dogs and cats, and each requires very different treatment so your veterinarian must diagnose each case accurately. Please remember that this article is for informational purposes only and you should never begin a treatment without first consulting a veterinarian.
Types of Arthritis
Inflammatory Arthritis generally affects multiple joints and is caused by an infection or an abnormality in the animal's immune system. The infectious form of inflammatory arthritis is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. This may be the result of a tick-borne illness like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which needs to be treated with antibiotics along with the arthritis to cure the entire problem. Rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus are examples of an immune-mediated arthritis where a disorder in the animal's immune system causes the joints to become inflamed. This type of arthritis is often hereditary.
The second general type of arthritis may be known as either Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease. Some sources use these two terms interchangeably while others use them to refer to two slightly different types of arthritis. For our purposes, we will use them both to describe the result of abnormal stress on normal joints or normal stress on abnormal joints. Abnormal stress would be activity like constant jumping or running, stretching ligaments, injuries, or an overweight animal. Abnormal joints would be a result of trauma or another condition like hip dysplasia or loose kneecaps. This type of arthritis can sometimes be lessened or eliminated by surgery to repair the damaged joint.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Once you notice your common arthritis symptoms in your animal and your veterinarian has diagnosed arthritis, they will be able to recommend a treatment regimen. Never give your pet over-the-counter human pharmaceuticals without a veterinarian's approval. Some human medications can be harmful or even fatal to animals, even in small dosages. A well-balanced treatment should have three parts: pain management, behavior, and diet.
Pain management may involve the use of painkiller medications like aspirin compounds or anti-inflammatory medications. Your veterinarian will be able to provide more information about the more effective and latest medications available to ease your animal's pain.
The behavior component of treatment would include things like using elevated feeding dishes, using pet ramps or pet steps, and providing regular low impact exercise to loosen sore joints. Moist heat and a heated bed may soothe aching joints and a firm, orthopedic bed can make resting and rising more comfortable for your pet.
Diet is also important to maintain a healthy weight and to manage arthritis. Extra stress is placed on the joints of an overweight dog, causing more pain and degradation in the joints. Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can be used to help rebuild damaged cartilage and lubricate joints. Your pet may also be able to take other supplements like vitamin A or Omega-3 fatty acids to help their joint health.
Arthritis is just as uncomfortable and undiscriminating in animals as humans. The young and healthy can be affected as well as the old and ill. If you notice your pet slowing down or showing pain, contact your veterinarian. They will be able to diagnose arthritis or another debilitating illness that may be affecting their quality of life and recommend a course of action to make their life easier.