Have you noticed your pet limping lately? I bet you are worried about it and wondering what it can be.
One of the most common reasons for limping – in fact in with more than 20% of dogs (regardless of age) – is osteoarthritis.
Yes, osteoarthritis is not just a human disease! It can cause mild pain, but it can also be so serious and debilitating that some pet owners choose to euthanise their pet. These poor pets creak and hobble around the house, struggle up and downstairs and work especially hard to get to their feet in the chilly mornings. It can cause loss of bodily functions so that even a well-trained dog would rather wee inside than go through the pain of walking outside.
So what exactly is arthritis? A healthy joint consists of two pieces of bone, each covered with a healthy smooth layer of cartilage, lubricated with joint fluid to enable pain and creak free movement and then all of this is covered with a capsule and held together with ligaments. Arthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints in an animal’s body. This can be because of an injury, abnormal joint development, or age. Once a joint is injured, damaging enzymes are released from the injured tissues. These enzymes cause further damage to the joint. The damaging enzymes spread deep into cracks that appear in the joint cartilage, severely damaging the underlying bone. The irritation causes the bone to react aggressively and bony outgrowths and spikes grow into and around the joint, crippling the pet and causing continual pain.
Suddenly bone grinds on bone. Ouch!.
Arthritis is common in old cats as well but it is very often missed. Old cats have problems grooming themselves and often develop little knots of hair on their backs. They walk with little quick back leg movements and often have difficulty using their litter tray accurately as they cannot squat when toileting. They may also be unable to jump up on the couch anymore and tend to sleep on the floor instead.
To help us design a treatment plan for pets we need to see them in person because the symptoms of osteoarthritis can look like a lot of other serious diseases. A history of the problem, combined with a physical examination to determine the range of movement in a joint, any joint thickening or crepitus (a crunching/crackling feeling while manipulating the joint), and the degree of pain.
An X-ray will show the amount of new bone production, bone remodelling, and other changes adjacent to the joint, narrowing of the joint space, and sometimes increased amounts of joint fluid. This will also rule out more devastating conditions like bone cancer.
It all comes down to:
Arthritis is a very painful disease for pets and humans alike. Its origin can be because of joints deformities, trauma, immune-mediated conditions or simply wear and tear that comes with age.
It causes painful joints and pets will start to limp and slow down. Cats, being natural acrobats, very often don’t limp. Their behaviour usually changes and they tend to instead of jumping down furniture gently slide down with their front feet first. Look out for that!
Treatment is multimodal. Lots of little things can make a huge difference. Your family vet can help with this, but I will discuss it in more detail next time.