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Arthritis Overview

Arthritis Overview

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint, which can cause pain and/or swelling. Several types exist, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Degenerative arthritis
  • Infectious arthritis

Each of which has a different cause. An arthritic joint can cause immense pain, especially in the morning and in cold weather.

As your pet's advocate, it is up to you to watch for trouble. Call a veterinarian if your pet shows these signs of arthritis:

  • Becomes less active
  • Gets up slowly
  • Walks stiffly or limps
  • Has swollen joints
  • Yelps, especially during exercise
  • Hesitates or refuses to climb stairs
  • Has a fever
  • Seems depressed

Comprehensive examinations help your veterinarian detect and treat arthritis before it becomes too painful. If your pet doesn't receive regular exams, the arthritis may already be advanced when you notice it. If you do notice signs of arthritis, see a veterinarian immediately.

Your doctor will perform a complete physical examination and may use blood tests, X-rays and joint fluid analysis to help determine the cause and severity of the arthritis.

Medical Treatment

Veterinary care can help reduce inflammation and ease the pain of arthritis. Some of the tools your veterinarian may use to treat your pet:

  • Antibiotics help treat infectious causes of arthritis. Immunosuppressive drugs are effective against autoimmune disorders.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help control the debilitating effects of degenerative arthritis. These medications can effectively control pain and inflammation in dogs. In fact, your older dog may act like a puppy again!
  • Chondroprotective agents, including glucosamine andchondroitin, are natural compounds that the body uses to replenish joint materials.
  • MSM (natural dietary sulfur), antioxidant vitamins and fatty acid supplements may decrease the inflammatory effects of arthritis.
  • Cortisone can be effective in the treatment of arthritis but can have side effects with prolonged use at high dosages.

The bottom line is that there are many, many therapeutic options to help older pets deal effectively with this common condition of old age.

What You Can Do

Lightening the load on joints may help decrease the pain associated with arthritis. If your pet is overweight, proper diet and weight control is essential. Your veterinarian can recommend a therapeutic diet and exercise program, such as regular walking, to decrease your pet's weight safely.

Providing a padded bed and a warm, dry environment and appropriate medications for your pet can also help control discomfort.

Where arthritis takes its toll

A joint is the "hinge" between bones that allows the bones to move as levers. A joint consists of two or more bones and their connections. The synovium is the lining that protects the ends of bones and produces synovial fluid, a cushioning substance that lubricates and nourishes the joint. The joint capsule holds the joint together, offering protection and structure.

When arthritis strikes, all of these structures can be permanently affected, leading to painful bony spurs seen with degenerative joint disease. The hip and shoulder are ball-and-socket joints with a wider range of motion than other joints. Arthritis in the specialized joints between the spine's vertebrae may be referred to as spondylosis or discospondylitis.

Did you know...

Your pet's doctor now has the diagnostic and therapeutic technology to help lessen the effects of aging on your beloved family pet. Arthritis is just one sign that your senior pet needs special care. You also may notice a number of behavioral changes, including:

  • Disorientation
  • Decreased affection or interaction with the family
  • Increased fear or anxiety
  • Doesn't respond to verbal cues or its name
  • Stares into space or at walls
  • Sleeps less during the night but more overall
  • Forgets previously learned commands
  • Urinates or defecates indoors

Never assume that changes in memory, learning, awareness, or perception are "normal" in older pets – or that little can be done.

  • If you notice any of these signs, make an appointment with your pet's doctor right away.
  • With your cooperation, your veterinary team can help ensure a longer, healthier life for your older pet.