What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease causing pain and stiffness. In the normal joint, the bone ends are covered by a thin layer of cartilage - a smooth, springy substance which acts as a shock absorber and reduces friction within the joint. The normal joint also contains joint fluid, providing lubrication to further reduce friction.
In the arthritic joint the cartilage layer becomes worn and the underlying bone surface can become exposed, increasing friction, causing pain and reducing movement within the joint. The joint becomes inflamed and this inflammation further irritates the joint, making arthritis a progressive condition.
What are the causes?
In dogs, the hips, knees, backbone and elbows are the most common sites affected by arthritis. In older animals the most common cause is simply wear and tear. Often, however, arthritis develops early due to poor joint conformation, that is, the shape of the joint is not quite right. This can be genetic, for instance Labradors and German Shepherds often have poorly formed hip joints ('hip dysplasia') and these dogs should therefore have their joints assessed by x-ray before they are used for breeding.
Any injury to a joint (such as from a car accident or due to surgery) increases the risk of arthritis developing in that joint in the future. Similarly, arthritis can be the result of an infection within a joint.
How can it be treated?
Arthritis is a progressive condition but whilst it cannot be cured it can be managed, to reduce its rate of progression and improve your pet's quality of life. There are four basic steps in the management of arthritis:
- Weight control
- Exercise management
- Dietary supplements
- Anti-inflammatory medications
If you think your dog may be showing signs of arthritis you should have him/her assessed by your vet, who can tailor a treatment regime with you.