Pet Illness

  • Arthritis in the Dog
  • Cruciate Ligament Disease
  • Luxating Patella
  • Cancer in Dogs and Cats

It can sometimes come as a surprise to owners when they find out that their pets can suffer the same problems that we, as humans, frequently suffer. Arthritis is one such complaint - a common problem in many of our canine pets.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a very broad term, simply indicating that there is a degree of inflammation (swelling) within a joint. When the term 'arthritis' is used by pet owners or Vets, it is normally 'osteoarthritis' which is being referred to. However, there are two other broad categories of arthritis - infectious and immune-mediated - which need to be ruled-out before appropriate treatment is given.

Osteoarthritis (OA)

This is the most common cause of joint pain in the dog. 'Osteo' refers to bone, and when taking x-rays of joints with this disease, small 'spurs' of bone are often seen as a suggestion that the disorder is present. The most important consideration for management of osteoarthritis in the dog is the understanding that this complain normally occurs secondary to an underlying problem, leading to an abnormal function in the joint. Any joint which is not working properly will develope a degree of osteoarthritis. The most common underlying complaints to cause osteoarthritis in the dog are hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament disease, luxating patella and elbow dysplasia. These problems all cause some joint malfunction, leading to swelling and pain within the joint. Management of the underlying problem will be a large step towards management of the joint pain (Please see Southfields factsheets regarding these diseases and their individual management.)

Osteoarthritis causes erosion of the articular cartilage (the smooth surface of the bones in the joint), pain, and increase volume of joint fluid and a vicious circle of pain, erosion and further inflammation. Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis often display predictable changes; they are often stiff after resting, especially if resting after a period of exercise. owners often describe the animal 'loosening-up eventually.' Reluctance getting up/down or on/off furniture is also common, as well as a reduced ability to tolerate anything other than light exercise.

Immune-mediated Arthritis (IMA)

This type of arthritis is commonly suffered by humans. 'Rheumatism'in humans is a type of immune-mediated arthritis. This problem involves attack of the joints by the body's own immune system. This problem can be linked to other immune-system disorders, or can occur in isolation. IMA often affects more than one joint at a time, and is often more 'aggressive' than OA, causing the animal to have other problems as well as stiffness - signs such as weight loss, lethargy and on examination the pets can have a high temperature. Diagnosis of IMA relies on taking samples of joint fluid from affected joints, and the treatment differs significantly compared to the treatment of OA.

Infective Arthritis

This occurs when an infectious agent (normally bacteria) starts to grow within a joint. The bacteria may come from direct penetration (e.g. penetration of the joint by a nail or similar), by spread from an infection elsewhere in the body, or as a consequence of joint surgery. Affected joints are often dramatically painful and swollen, and again the diagnosis is made by taking a sample of joint fluid. Thankfully, response to appropriate medical treatment is often very good in the dog. However, joints with OA (see above) are prone to developing infective arthritis, meaning that ongoing treatment of OA is necessary even when the bacteria have been eliminated.

Long-term Management of Osteoarthritis (OA)

With OA being the most common form of arthritis in the dog, we will consider how this disease is managed to help your pet lead a long and comfortable life. Assuming surgical management of the underlying disorder has been considered, we will now go-on to discuss the medical/environmental management of OA and joint pain.

  1. Weight Control - Preventing obesity is an important part of caring for any pet, and this is even more important when OA is present. The heavier the animal, the greater the load taken by the joints and the more painful the animal will become. This will lead to reduction in ability to exercise, greater weight gain and so on. Reduction of food intake, cutting-out treats and human food, and use of modern weight-control diets can all help our pets lose weight. Here at Southfields we run free weight clinics with our nursing team - just give us a call if you would like to take part.
  2. Pain Relief - Controlling the pain associated with OA will improve the pet's quality of life, and also encourage exercise, hence helping to stay lean and happy. Speak to your Vet regarding suitable pain relief techniques.
  3. Exercise Management - Too much overzealous exercise will lead to the pet becoming sore. Too little exercise and the joints will become stiff, the pet will find it hard to prevent weight gain, and will be less happy in general. Daily, sensible/gentle exercise is recommended to strike the balance between too much and too little.
  4. Hydrotherapy - For those dogs who love swimming, several hydrotherapy centres are available locally which cater specifically for dogs. Swimming allows the joints to move with minimal load, keeping them supple without becoming sore. It also helps keep weight down, and for many dogs this is the most enjoyable part of their treatment!
  5. Dietary Supplements - Supplementing the dog's diet with nutrients required by the joints can help manage the progression of OA.

Because osteoarthritis is not a condition that can be cured, it is common for pet owners to become frustrated with the outcome for their pet. However, by using  a combination of the above principles, the quality of life and comfort experienced by our OA patients can be improved significantly. Just get in touch if you think you would like to discuss arthritis, or would just like to have the weight of your pet checked!