Arthritis is a complex condition involving inflammation of joints. There are many causes of arthritis in pets. In most cases, the degree of arthritis is related to the age of the animal.
What causes arthritis?
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA) which is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). This can be primary, the cause of which is unknown and secondary, following conditions involving joint instability leading to damage of the subchondral bone that line the joints. Some common causes of DJD include hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament rupture, and so forth.
Other causes include joint infection, often as the result of bites or injuries or it may follow joint trauma and damage.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune mediated, erosive, inflammatory condition. Cartilage and bone are eroded within affected joints and the condition can progress to complete joint fixation, (ankylosis). It may affect single joints or multiple joints may be involved (polyarthritis). In certain dog breeds Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) factors can be detected with blood tests.
Other types of immune mediated arthritis can be non-erosive, such as arthritis that is associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE). SLE is often accompanied by other clinical signs in addition to the arthritis.
Infective or septic arthritis can be caused by a variety of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Septic arthritis normally only affects a single joint and the condition results in swelling, fever, heat and pain in the joint. Before long your pet is likely to stop eating and become depressed.
How do we treat arthritis?
Treatment will depend on the cause of arthritis. Immune mediated and rheumatoid arthritis are usually treated with high doses of corticosteroids which often lead to a dramatic response. The maintenance of these conditions often involves the long-term use of corticosteroids and other drugs such as immunosuppressive or cytotoxic agents.
The treatment of septic arthritis involves determining the type of microorganism involved and its antibiotic sensitivity. Antibiotics are usually administered for a minimum of a month and analgesics are also necessary to combat pain and inflammation.
Analgesics are the most common form of treatment for osteoarthritis. It is important to select these medications with care since some dogs are more sensitive than others to the potential side-effects of analgesics. The most common side-effects of analgesics include decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Most pets will have pre-medication blood tests to make sure that they can safely metabolize and excrete the medication and then periodic blood tests to ensure continued safe usage. If you have any concerns following the administration of any medication we have prescribed, please discontinue them and contact us immediately.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM.© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. TIME \@ “MMMM d, yyyy” October 7, 2006
What’s the Best Treatment for Arthritis?
By Ernest Ward, DVM and Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH
What exactly is arthritis in dogs and cats?
Arthritis indicated in a dog hip joint.
What is Arthritis in Dogs and Cats?
- Arthritis is an inflammation of one or more joints (a joint connects two or more bones together).
- This inflammation causes mild to extreme joint pain in dogs and cats, slowing them down and sometimes making it too painful to play or even walk.
What causes arthritis in pets?
To help explain its causes, let’s look at how arthritis can be classified in 2 ways:
Primary arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- In rheumatoid arthritis, the pet’s cartilage and bone are eroded within affected joints.
- This condition can progress to complete joint fixation (ankylosis), which is a stiffness or complete locking of the joint.
- It may affect single joints or multiple joints.
- Other types of primary or immune mediated arthritis can be non-erosive, such as arthritis associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE). SLE is often accompanied by other clinical signs in addition to the arthritis.
Secondary arthritis, which occurs as a result of joint instability.
- Secondary arthritis is the most common form diagnosed in veterinary patients, mainly as osteoarthritis (OA) which is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD).
- Some common causes include the following primary conditions that lead to DJD:
- Hip dysplasia
- Cranial cruciate ligament rupture
- Joint infection, often as the result of bites (septic arthritis)
- Traumatic injury such as a car accident
- Infective or septic arthritis caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. This normally only affects a single joint and results in swelling, fever, heat and joint pain. With septic arthritis, your pet is likely to stop eating and become depressed.
What are the symptoms of arthritis and degenerative joint disease in dogs and cats?
Arthritis indicated in a cat hip joint.
- The main symptom in dogs is lameness, but many obese dogs have DJD. So dog obesity is quite often a related symptom.
- Lameness is not the obvious sign in cats. More commonly, affected cats are reluctant or unable to jump up or down from furniture, reluctant to move (often perceived as ‘sleeping more’), increasingly irritable when touched or handled, especially around the affected joints, and show stiffness, reluctance to sharpen the claws, reluctance to groom, and/or difficulty getting into or out of the litterbox.
Multimodal Approach to Treating Osteoarthritis
What’s the best treatment for dog and cat arthritis or degenerative joint disease?
- Treatment for primary arthritis is usually high doses of corticosteroids,often with dramatic improvement. Plan to use them in the long term since this type of arthritis is permanent.
- Treatments for secondary arthritis or degenerative joint disease include pain-relief medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Follow your vet’s guidance since some pets are more sensitive to potential side-effects of analgesics (decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhea). Your vet will run blood tests to make sure the treatment is safe.
- Treatment for septic arthritis includes antibiotics, usually administered for at least 1 month, along with pain relief medication.
- Other treatments that help ease discomfort are Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, DHA and EPA; as well as nutritional supplements such as glucosamine and/or chondroitin. Combining omega-3 fatty acids with glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate and NSAID therapy will help the majority of patients suffering from degenerative joint disease.
- You can also ease joint pain symptoms at home. Provide a ‘step’ so your pet can get up to a favorite sleep area or the car, make sure food and water dishes are accessible, and in cats, provide shallow litter boxes on several levels of the home. Also encourage your pet to continue moving around through gentle play.
The great news is — your vet can guide you to best pet medications and supplements for arthritis.
Talk with your veterinarian for a recommended medical approach combined with nutritional supplements, and whether your pet could benefit from their use.