As senior pet month draws to a close, Dr. Kerri McMahon, an associate veterinarian at Country Friends Veterinary Clinic, has shed some light on arthritis in pets.

Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary defines arthritis as inflammation of a joint.  It is also known by other names such as arthropathy or polyarthritis.  There are many different types of arthritis, such as degenerative arthritis, erosive arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.  The most common form we see in veterinary medicine is degenerative arthritis that develops in our pets over time.  Approximately 1 in 5 dogs and almost half of our cat companions silently suffer from arthritic pain.  Bone projections and changes around the joint create significant pain, inflammation, and damage.  Arthritis is progressive and is a permanent change in the animal.

The diagnosis of arthritis is based on three things:

(1) The animal’s history may suggest pain – the pet does not use stairs easily any longer, cannot jump up as easily or hesitates to jump, is increasingly inactive, etc.

(2) The animal’s physical exam is where pain may be detected by the veterinarian.

(3) Imaging will allow us to see where changes are and how significant they have become.

Radiographs, or “x-rays”, are the first and most common type of imaging done.  They are extremely successful in helping obtain a diagnosis of arthritis.  Rarely an animal may need further imaging in the form of CT scans or MRIs for a successful diagnosis.  This is not common.

When treating arthritis, we address the pain as well as the lack of overall joint health.  Joint pain is primarily caused by inflammation and swelling, so anti-inflammatories are used and are very successful.  Anti-inflammatories can be used alone or in conjunction with other medications to comfort an arthritic patient.

To address the health of an arthritic joint, supplements are very effective and used in addition to pain medications.  Glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM are the most commonly used oral supplements.  They help supply the building blocks for the animal’s body to make more joint fluid, providing a cushion in the joint and slowing down degeneration.  Improvement is typically seen in 4-6 weeks.  When looking for a joint supplement for your pet, ask your veterinarian for guidance.  There are significant variations in effectiveness between products – they are not all created equal.  Injectable supplements are another tool for improving joint health.  In fact, the injectable supplements are the most effective at repairing damaged joints and slowing down the degenerative process.  Adequan Canine (for dogs and cats alike) and ChondroProtect are examples of injectable joint supplements.  These injections are given in a series by the veterinarian or veterinary nurse in muscle tissue or under the skin.  Improvement is usually seen after the 3rd or 4th injection.

Degenerative arthritis is common in dogs and cats.  Physical examination and radiographs are good ways to diagnose the disease process.  Pain control and joint supplements are effective in keeping our pets comfortable much longer.  Let us help you help your furry family members enjoy their lives to the fullest!

As Dr Kerri McMahon pointed out, this is a common, but very treatable disease process. Please contact Country Friends Veterinary Clinic if you have any questions. For additional information on medications that treat degenerative arthritis click here.

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