Osteoarthritis (OA) is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), or simply arthritis. It is a slowl, progressive cartilage degeneration that includes the production of osteophytes, or bone spurs that form along the margins of the joint. It is usually caused by trauma or abnormal wear of the bones of the joint, which leads to the destruction of the cartilage that cushions the joints. As the cartilage wears away, the joint become more inflamed, unstable, and painful. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, but is most commonly seen in the elbows, hips, and knees.
Osteoarthritis can affect any dog, in any joint. It is common in dogs with a congenital condition of the joint, such as a patellar luxation or hip dysplasia. However, it is most commonly seen in medium to larger breed dogs, and older dogs are at the greatest risk.
Usually owners begin to notice that their dog is slower or more reluctant to participate in normal activities such as running, jumping, getting into the car, or using stairs. He/she is often stiff and slow to get up in the morning or after resting and tires much more easily. The dog will have an altered gait, as he/she tries to shift weight to the unaffected limbs. This can lead to muscle atrophy of the affected limb(s), since the dog avoids using those legs. Some dogs with OA will seek warm, soft places to sleep, and will bite at or lick the painful joint. Osteoarthritis doesn’t usually cause swollen joints, and the pain is a dull, aching type, so most dogs do not cry out in pain.
Diagnosis of osteoarthritis is based on the dog’s history, clinical signs, and a physical exam. Your veterinarian will also take radiographs to assess the degree of osteoarthritis in the joints. (show rads normal vs O)
There is not one primary cause of OA, but there are several secondary causes. For example, the condition may form as a result of trauma, abnormal wear on the joint and cartilage, or from a congenital
defect such as hip or elbow dysplasia. Osteoarthritis will form in any joint that is suffering from instability. It can form as the result of an injury such as dislocation of the kneecap or shoulder, cruciate ligament tear, or a fracture involving the joint. Dogs with osteochondritis dessicans (OCD) usually develop OA, due to the formation an abnormal flap of cartilage in the joint. Obesity is also factor in the development of osteoarthritis, as excess weight puts additional wear and strain on the joints.
Neither medical nor surgical treatment can cure osteoarthritis. Rather, the goal is to alleviate the symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and make the animal more comfortable. Anti- inflammatories are usually prescribed to decrease pain and inflammation in the joint. Exercise and physical therapy can be beneficial in maintaining normal motion of the joint and tone of the supporting muscles. Heat and cold therapy can also be used to manage pain and inflammation. Joint supplements are given to slow the progression of OA by maintaining joint cartilage and promoting the synthesis of new cartilage. In some dogs, surgery can be performed to remove aggravating bone and cartilage fragments. Total hip and elbow replacements are also performed in some severe cases. Your veterinarian can help you decide the best plan for managing your pet’s OA, and whether or not he/she is a good candidate for surgery.
When adopting a puppy, it is a good idea to understand the common orthopedic conditions that affect the particular breed. The earlier a joint condition is recognized, the sooner you can take steps to slow the progression of osteoarthritis in that joint. Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can be used to maintain joint health. Weight control is critical in preventing or slowing OA, because excess weight puts additional strain on the joints. Regular veterinary exam are also important in monitoring the progression of osteoarthritis.
Because osteoarthritis is progressive and continues to worsen over time, the sooner a problem is detected, the better the prognosis. Medical treatment can slow the development of OA and keep your dog comfortable and active for years. Even in cases that progress to the point where surgery is indicated, recovery is usually good. The most important thing is to monitor the progression of the disease and take the necessary steps to support the health of the joints and the dog as a whole.