As the days start to get shorter and the nights colder, you might begin to experience some achy and stiff joints. You may also notice that your pet is not as active as it once was or doesn’t move as quickly. Likely both you and your pet could be experiencing osteoarthritis. Arthritis affects humans and animals in similar ways. Arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a breakdown of the protective cartilage and bone surrounding joints. The process begins with excessive motion in a joint that eventually leads to a wearing-down of cartilage. As a result, inflammation develops within the joint, and movement becomes painful. These changes generally appear later in life, but if mechanical or hereditary defects are severe, signs can appear in younger pets.

How will you know if your pet has arthritis? They may start having trouble with steps or trouble getting up from a lying position. Other symptoms of arthritis include joint pain, stiffness or tenderness at the site, a subtle or severe limp, and sometimes swelling, which can indicate fluid buildup. There are many ways to assess the degree of arthritis including, careful palpation of the joints, lameness evaluation or radiographs (x-rays).

There are many treatment options to provide relief for pets with arthritis. You should always work with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan. Never give your pet over-the-counter human pharmaceuticals without a veterinarian's approval. Some human medications can be harmful or even fatal to animals, even in small dosages. A well-balanced treatment should have three parts: pain management, behavior, and diet.

Pain management involves the use of anti-inflammatory medications, targeted pain medications, cold laser treatment and acupuncture. Elko Veterinary Clinic offers cold laser therapy and has had great success treating many painful conditions with low level laser therapy.

Behavioral aspect of arthritis treatment involves low impact exercise and physical therapy. Regular exercise helps to keep your pet fit and feeling good and to avoid the “weekend warrior syndrome”. Other behavioral components of treatment would include things like using elevated feeding dishes, using pet ramps or pet steps, and providing regular low impact exercise to loosen sore joints. Moist heat and a heated bed may soothe aching joints and a firm, orthopedic bed can make resting and rising more comfortable for your pet.

Diet is also important to maintain a healthy weight and to manage arthritis. Extra stress is placed on the joints of an overweight dog, causing more pain and degradation in the joints. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight lessens the strain on joints, decreases the risk of other metabolic conditions and extends the life of your pet. Supplements like Adequan, glucosamine and chondroitin can be used to help rebuild damaged cartilage and lubricate joints. Your pet may also be able to take other supplements like vitamin A or Omega-3 fatty acids to help their joint health. There are also therapeutic foods that are formulated with the supplements already in them and are designed specifically to treat arthritis.

Arthritis is just as uncomfortable and undiscriminating in animals as humans. The young and healthy can be affected as well as the old and ill. If you notice your pet slowing down or showing pain, please come and see us. We would love to help make your pet’s life as healthy and pain free as possible.

​-Tessa Sustacha, DVM