There are studies that show that by one year of age 20% of dogs already have signs of abnormalities related to their joints on x rays. From there it only gets worse as more damage is done over time.
For cats it is even worse news, for upwards of 90% of cats show changes on x rays related to joints that can cause pain.
There are rare cases of arthritis that result from auto immune, cancer, infection, nervous system diseases, nutritional errors, and so on. BUT the majority of cases of pet arthritis arise upon either normal joints asked to bear too much load over too long a time, trauma and ligament damage, or joints that have abnormal anatomy due to genetic reasons like conformation, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and related osteochondrosis syndromes. In these cases the joint surfaces do not meet each other correctly, wear happens and again arthritis results.
Pain is the result of course. Also damage to cartilage causes reduction in the thickness of the cartilage to the point the cartilage can be so thin that the bones in the joint actually rub on each other. Joint fluid lubrication disappears and the joint capsules start to thicken. Nerve endings increase in number and become more sensitive. Calcium builds up along the edges of the bone and joint capsule. As structures thicken stiffness results. As joint dysfunction persists weight is shifted from sore legs to healthier legs. Muscle mass is lost. Muscles on the good legs will increase in size with the extra work. Limping may appear if there is one sounder leg than another. If legs hurt evenly no limp will be present.
Behaviour of Pets with Arthritis:
Genetics tell cats and dogs to be quiet and not show weakness when they have a chronic problem. Over thousands of years those that made a fuss when they were injured were the first to be eaten by bears and lions. If you want to survive to reproduce you keep quiet when injured and this trait is passed onto the next generation.
The important activities of dogs and cats are, eating, drinking, elimination, exploring, seeking social contact, and play. These activities are caused by behaviour drives from very deep in the brain. Learned behaviour like if I run my leg hurts reside in the more superficial parts of the brain. Deep behaviours always trump behaviours from the superficial part of the brain. This means a pet will not stop eating, exploring and playing until their body cannot move any more.
Signs of Arthritis:
Favouring a limb. Difficulty sitting or standing. Sleeping more. Seeming to have stiff or sore joints. Hesitancy to jump, run or climb stairs. Weight gain (or loss). Decreased activity or less interest in play. Attitude or behavior changes. Being less alert. Often people will say my pet has really gotten old. But when the pain is relieved they stop acting old. This means pets acting old are really acting sick or sore.
Reducing the damage LIFESTYLE:
Above everything else the weight must be controlled. Lean muscular bodies tolerate arthritis better. Exercise with control is the next most important. Knowing how much activity your pet tolerates without pain or stiffness defines the comfort envelope. Over time with controlled exercise one wishes to increase the envelope. To do this requires low intensity long duration activity. Walking, trotting, figure of 8 on the sides of gentle slopes, wading and swimming are all good ways to improve fitness. Rapid, fast, sudden acceleration events like jumping, twisting, galloping do not help joints cope.
Reducing the damage NUTRITION and SUPPLEMENTS:
As mentioned above, optimal body weight is the most important goal related to nutrition. Diets high in the species appropriate fatty acids can improve the health of cartilage and joint fluid, reducing and slowing arthritis. For the best anti arthritis diet for your pet, please ask the staff.
Supplements for joint health contain in the order of effectiveness, avocado-soybean unsaponifiables, green lipped mussels, elk velvet, MSM, EPA for dogs and DHA for cats, chondroitin and lastly by far glucosamine. Either use a staff recommended supplement or one made by a company that identifies themselves as a member of National Animal Supplement Council or is ISO certified. Many counterfeit or products with unverifiable claims or ingredients exist. For the health of your pet they should be avoided.
Reducing the damage MEDICATIONS:
When there is a joint that has good anatomy and needs help to return to function, Medications like Cartrophen and Adequan are used. They improve blood supply , joint fluid quality and patch cartilage.
When the joint anatomy suggests that there is not enough good anatomy left then pain and inflammation management will be more important. NSAID drugs like Metacam, Previcox, Derramax, Carprofen, Quadrisol, etc can be used. Unfortunately drugs in this class often have side effects so the lowest dose needed to control pain should be used. Urine and blood samples should be checked to watch for signs the body is not coping. Many drugs in this class are not tolerated by cats at all and only with care in dogs. Several human NSAID drugs are lethal in pets and should never be used even once.
Reducing the PAIN:
As mentioned above for some patients pain can be managed with NSAID drugs, others being intolerant of NSAIDS or having reached a maladaptive pain situation require medications to correct nerve over stimulation. Drugs such as Gabapentin, Tramadol, Amadatine and Amitriptyline are used here.
Balancing the pain management by using more than one tool will reduce the dose of any single agent and reduce the risk of side effects.
Reducing the damage SURGERY:
For some arthritis surgical repair is needed. Stabilising a joint makes the joint anatomy and function more normal. For some pets a joint (i.e. hip) replacement is beneficial.
Reducing the damage STEM (Regenerative) CELL THERAPY :
In our body’s reside cells who are to come to the area of injury and heal us. They can be harvested, concentrated and then injected into an area needing extra healing assistance. This process can be especially useful in arthritis therapy.
Reducing the damage TISSUE STIMULATION:
These involve technologies like Laser Pain Therapy, Shock-wave therapy and Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy. They all appear to be beneficial for some individuals.
Physiotherapy is an important technique for this as well, ranging from walks to water treadmills.