Osteoarthritis, otherwise known as OA, is a chronic disease in which the cartilages that cover and protect the ends of the bones in joints of the body are deteriorating progressively and permanently. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in dogs presumed to affect a quarter of its population.
Contrary to OA in humans, osteoarthritis in dogs is likely a secondary disease occurrence from a prime developmental orthopaedic disease, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, joint trauma, and cranial cruciate ligament disease. The hip joint, elbow joint, and stifle joints are the joints that are usually affected when a dog experiences OA. Contributing factors to osteoarthritis in dogs includes the following:
- Body weight (obesity)
Signs and Symptoms
The sign and symptoms of osteoarthritis in dogs are dependent on how severe the disease has gotten. Often, symptoms of OA are indefinite, which include:
It causes the dog to show signs of discomfort or have behavioural changes.
- Whimpering/Yelping in pain
- Acting withdrawn or displays aggression
- Difficulty getting up from a resting position
- Soreness when touched
- Clicking sound when walking
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain
- Hesitant to perform activities
The dog will be reluctant to move or basically ‘activity impairment.’
- Reduced mobility
- Abnormal gait
- Reluctant to exercise
- Difficulties in jumping in and/or out of the car
- Decrease in overall activity
Diagnosing osteoarthritis in dogs is usually done through a combination of physical examination as well as medical imaging modalities like X-rays.
- The veterinarian will initially perform a physical exam, especially in the affected joints. He or she will palpate the joints and limbs to assess the accumulation of fluid or effusion, thickening of the joint capsule, muscle atrophy or wasting, as well as painful responses from the dog.
- X-rays must be accompanied with a physical examination as it is only of limited use because it can only provide certain information on changes in the bone or bone spurs, aka osteophytes, and exhibit only limited changes in soft tissues.
- Other diagnostic tools that have been gaining popularity include:
- MRI or magnetic resonance imaging (which provides information concerning soft tissue structures—menisci and ligaments)
- CT or computed tomography (excellent in assessing bony changes in joints, especially with more intricate anatomy like wrists (carpi), elbows, and/or ankles (tarsi))
Recommended treatments for osteoarthritis in dogs are multimodal, meaning they consist of various approaches which can either be surgical or conservative or a mix of both. The entire treatment decisions rely on the patients and the open discussion between the surgeon and the pet owner. These are the most commonly used treatment approaches:
- Adjunctive pain drugs
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication
- Joint supplements
- Glucosamine sulphate
- Chondroitin sulphate
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
- Local in-the-joint (intra-articular) injections with different agents, such as:
- Hyaluronic acid
- Platelet-rich plasma
- In some cases, surgical management can be the best choice of treatment (cranial cruciate ligament rupture), which include:
- Total joint replacement surgery (mostly in hips and elbows)
- Fusion of joints (arthrodesis)
- Surgical stabilisation of joints that are unstable (suture-based or osteotomy-based techniques for stifle joint)
- Change in activity. High-impact activities like jumping or running must be limited as they can be the reason for more pain and inflammation. These activities must be exchanged with a more controlled activity, such as leash walks. Consistent but low-impact activities are good to aid in building the muscles around the joints and will, later on, promote stability in the joints.
- Weight control. Obesity is a factor in osteoarthritis in dogs. A dog that is overweight translates to more force on already diseased joints that can result in further discomfort.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, which means it will continue to worsen with time. Conservative approaches will slow down the progress of the disease; therefore, dogs will be able to live comfortably years after the diagnosis.
If surgery was done, the recovery of the dog is likely excellent, especially with the total joint replacement surgery, in which case the diseased joint is entirely eliminated and replaced.
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