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Osteoarthritis in Pets

Expert for this article
Dr. Lee Ee Lian
Practice Director, Vet Partners
Dr. Lee Ee Liang is a skilled veterinarian with a Diploma in Animal Health, a Veterinary Medicine Degree from University Putra Malaysia, and over a decade of experience. He is the Practice Director at a leading veterinary clinic in Malaysia, overseeing a team of 40 vets. Additionally, he's a guest lecturer at the University of Malaysia Kelantan's Veterinary Medicine Faculty, and an honorary advisor for MAVNA 🩺🤩

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Table of content

Osteoarthritis in Pets

Source: Wolf Animal Hospital

Osteoarthritis is a prevalent and debilitating condition that affects not only humans but also our beloved furry companions. As our pets age, their joints undergo wear and tear, leading to osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. This chronic condition can cause significant pain, discomfort, and reduced mobility in pets. However, by recognizing the symptoms, implementing preventative measures, and exploring available treatments, we can help our pets live happier and healthier lives.

What is Osteoarthritis in Pets

Canine Osteoarthritis, is a disease that affects dog’s joints, and is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs. It gets worse over time, making it harder for a dog to do normal everyday activities. Canine OA does not just affect elderly, large breed dogs. In fact, OA often starts at a young age, and can affect dogs of all sizes*. 

Younger dogs are more likely to develop OA  due to genetics, breed or body shape. The most common cause of OA is developmental joint disorders such as hip or elbow dysplasia. Developmental joint disorders could be prevented with selective and ethical breeding.  OA can develop in dogs of any age due to injury, which sometimes requires surgery. Being overweight can also put an abnormal stress on the joints.In older dogs, OA can be caused by age-related wear and tear of joints, or worsening of OA that developed earlier in life.

*Anderson KL, et al. Veterinary Science. 2020 Apr 28;7:220.

What are the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis in pets?

Recognizing and understanding the symptoms of osteoarthritis is crucial for early detection and effective management. While pets cannot communicate their pain verbally, these are several signs to look out for:

  • Limping or favouring certain limbs
  • Stiffness, particularly after rest or in the morning
  • Reluctance to jump, run, or climb stairs
  • Decreased activity level
  • Difficulty rising or lying down
  • Swelling or thickening around the affected joints
  • Irritability or changes in behaviour

If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, please consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and to discuss appropriate treatment options.

How can I prevent my pets from getting osteoarthritis?

While osteoarthritis is more common in older pets, there are measures you can take to minimize its impact and delay its onset:

  • Maintain a healthy weight 

Obesity places extra strain on joints, accelerating joint degeneration. Feeding your pet a balanced diet and providing regular exercise can help them maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.

  • Exercise

Regular, low-impact exercise is vital for keeping joints mobile and maintaining muscle strength. Consult with your veterinarian to develop an exercise plan appropriate for your pet's age, breed, and health condition. 

  • Provide joint-friendly bedding and accessories 

You can also opt for supportive bedding that cushions your pet's joints, such as memory foam beds or orthopaedic mattresses. Ramps or steps can also be helpful to reduce stress on joints when climbing onto furniture or into cars.

How do I care for a pet with osteoarthritis? What treatments are available out there?

Source: Amazon

What if my pet already shows symptoms of osteoarthritis? Fret not, caring for a pet with osteoarthritis requires a combination of proper management, supportive measures, and a loving environment. Here are some essential tips to help you provide the best care for your pet:

  • Consult with a Veterinarian 

It is crucial to consult with a veterinarian who can diagnose the condition, assess its severity, and recommend a tailored treatment plan. Regular check-ups will help monitor your pet's progress and make necessary adjustments to their care. Additionally, there are newly developed standardized tools for diagnosing osteoarthritis or joint disease in dogs, such as the Canine Osteoarthritis Staging Tool (COAST) and the Liverpool Osteoarthritis in Dogs Index (LOAD).

  • Medication

Follow your veterinarian's instructions regarding any prescribed medications, such as NSAIDs or pain relievers. Administer medications as directed and be aware of any potential side effects. However, it is crucial to use these medications under veterinary supervision, as some human NSAIDs can be toxic to pets. It's worth noting that novel therapies, such as Anti-NGF monoclonal antibody treatment, intraarticular stem cells, or platelet-rich plasma therapy, are gaining attention in the veterinary field.

  • Weight Management

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for pets with osteoarthritis, as excess weight puts additional strain on their joints. Work with your veterinarian to establish a balanced diet and feeding regimen that promotes weight control and overall health. Monitoring the body condition score (BCS) is important in assessing your pet's weight, and even a modest reduction of as little as 6% in body weight can lead to noticeable improvements in lameness.

  • Exercise and Physical Therapy

Regular exercise is vital to keep your pet's joints mobile and muscles strong. However, it's important to choose low-impact activities that don't exacerbate their condition. Consult with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate exercise program that includes controlled walks, swimming, or gentle play. Physical therapy techniques, including range-of-motion exercises and massage, can also help improve joint flexibility and reduce pain for your furbabies.

  • Joint-Friendly Environment

Create a comfortable and joint-friendly environment for your pet. Provide them with a soft and supportive bed, such as memory foam or orthopaedic padding. Use ramps or steps to help them access elevated surfaces like beds or sofas, reducing strain on their joints. 

Discuss with your veterinarian the use of nutritional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, Hyaluronic Acid, UC-II. These supplements can support joint health and reduce inflammation. Ensure you follow the recommended dosage and quality guidelines for optimum results.

  • Environmental Modifications

Make necessary modifications to your home to improve your pet's mobility and reduce joint stress. Install carpeting or use non-slip rugs on slippery floors to help them maintain stability. Consider raising food and water bowls to a comfortable height to prevent excessive bending or stretching.

  • Acupuncture 

Acupuncture can be beneficial in managing pain associated with osteoarthritis in pets. This alternative therapy stimulates specific points in the body, promoting the release of endorphins and reducing discomfort. Please do your own research and get a professional to do this for the best result. 

  • Warmth and Comfort

Provide warmth and comfort to your pet, especially during rainy months. Keep them cosy with warm bedding, and consider using heating pads or blankets designed for pets to soothe achy joints.

  • Gentle Grooming 

Regular grooming is essential for your pet's overall well-being. However, be gentle when brushing or bathing to avoid discomfort or joint strain. Consider using grooming tools specifically designed for pets with sensitive joints.

  • Emotional Support

Pets with osteoarthritis may experience changes in behaviour or mood due to pain and reduced mobility. Offer them extra love, attention, and mental stimulation to keep their spirits high. Engage in interactive playtime, provide puzzle toys, or consider enrichment activities that are appropriate for their condition.

Source: Amelia Pointe Animal Hospital and Daycare

In conclusion, osteoarthritis is a common condition in ageing pets that requires attentive care and management. By recognizing the symptoms early on, seeking veterinary guidance, and implementing preventative measures, we can help mitigate its impact on our furry companions. 

Protect your furry friend with Oyen Pet Insurance today before it is too late! Ensure their health and well-being with comprehensive coverage. Get a quote now at Oyen and provide your pet with the care they deserve. Don't wait, safeguard your pet's future with Oyen Pet Insurance. 

This article was written with guidance from Dr. Lee Ee Liang, a highly qualified and experienced veterinarian. Dr. Lee holds a Diploma in Animal Health and Production as well as a Degree in Veterinary Medicine from University Putra Malaysia. With over a decade of veterinary practice, Dr. Lee currently serves as the Practice Director at a chain veterinary clinic in Malaysia, where he leads a team of 40 veterinarians. His expertise extends to diagnostic imaging, and he serves as a guest lecturer at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Malaysia Kelantan, sharing his knowledge with future veterinarians. Dr. Lee's contributions to the field of veterinary medicine also extend to his role as an honorary advisor of the Malaysia Association of Veterinary Nurses and Assistants (MAVNA). His insights and expertise have been instrumental in shaping the information provided in this article, ensuring its accuracy and relevance to pet owners seeking guidance on osteoarthritis in pets.