Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is the number one cause of chronic pain in the dog and cat.
Symptoms include reluctance to rise after rest, an overall decrease in activity level, and changes in gait. While surgery to address the underlying causes may be feasible in some cases, often these patients are managed supportively. A multimodal approach to treatment is used to prevent progression of damage to the joints and control pain. These modalities include weight management, exercise, nutritional supplements, and oral medications.
Weight management is essential in preventing both progression of the disease and pain by decreasing stress on the joints. One way to begin this process is to switch to a reduced calorie diet or simply feed less of your pet’s current diet. This transition should be gradual and we recommend consulting with your veterinarian on whom diet is appropriate for your pet as well as his/her daily feeding requirements.
Healthy treats include carrots, mini rice cakes, and other raw or cooked vegetables. Vegetables also can be added to their food at mealtime to provide your pet a feeling of fullness without the extra calories. Daily exercise will not only assist with your pet’s weight loss, but can actually improve the health of your pet’s joints. Low impact exercise will help stabilize joints as well as strengthen surrounding muscle groups. These exercises include walking and swimming. Avoid activities that involve jumping and leaping as this can be hard on joints and potentially cause further damage. If your pet is sore after exercise, do not exercise again until the pain has resolved. Next time, exercise for only half of the time and gradually work back up to the original duration over time. Another type of exercise is passive range of motion. In this exercise, your pet is lying on his or her side and the joints are gently flexed and extended through their natural range of motion moving up one leg at a time. This can be done as much as 2-4 times a day, but should never be painful. While massage is not necessarily an exercise, it can be performed before or after any of the above activities. Massage has many benefits including increased blood and lymphatic flow to the area as well as improving mobility of the tissues and relaxing the muscles.
Nutritional supplements or Nutriceuticals are over the counter products formulated as pills, liquids, or additives in commercial and prescription diets. Examples of nutriceuticals include L- carnitine, Omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. L-carnitine helps maintain optimum body weight and lean muscle mass, and High EPA (Omega 3 fatty acids) found in fish oil has been shown to protect cartilage from damage and has anti-inflammatory properties. Glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate and Adequan provide the building blocks necessary for repair of damaged cartilage and may have antiinflammatory properties as well. Often nutraceuticals have a slow onset of action and can take as long as one to two months before adequate amounts build up and a positive effect is noted in the patient. These products are not classified as drugs according to the FDA and therefore have not undergone rigorous testing for efficacy or proper dosing. However, these products have been shown to improve quality of life in some arthritic patients and are an excellent component to the overall approach.
Oral medications and drugs can be very effective in relieving pain associated with osteoarthritis. These products are regulated by the FDA and must be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian to ensure their safety. NSAIDS, such as Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Meloxicam, and Etogesic, are non steroidal antiinflammatories which as implied decrease inflammation within the joint and therefore relieve pain. They are relatively fast in onset of action; however, do carry their own set of side effects and therefore should only be used under the guidance of a licensed veterinarian. Steroids, such as prednisone and dexamethasone, are strong anti-inflammatory medications. These also have adverse effects especially with chronic use and may be reserved for last resort or special circumstance situations in relation to osteoarthritis.
Treatment for osteoarthritis often involves a combination of therapies and medications. Please consult with your regular veterinarian on which combination of therapies are appropriate in your pet’s case.