What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that causes the structures of a joint to degrade. This results in affected joints becoming painful and inflamed. For some pets, this disease is triggered by an underlying condition, such as cruciate ligament rupture or hip dysplasia, while for others, the cause is unknown.
Both dogs and cats are frequently diagnosed with osteoarthritis, but we do see this condition in other pets too. You might also be thinking that osteoarthritis only affects older pets, but this condition can also affect pets from a young age, especially if they have an underlying orthopaedic condition.
If your pet has recently been diagnosed with osteoarthritis then the Canine Arthritis Management website has additional information about this condition and how it can be treated.
How is osteoarthritis managed?
There is a wide selection of treatments available to keep osteoarthritic pets comfortable while also helping to slow down the progression of this disease. Because osteoarthritis will get worse over time, your pet’s treatment must be regularly reassessed to ensure their pain levels are adequately managed.
A few simple changes to your pet’s lifestyle and home environment can make a huge difference to their quality of life.
Manage your pet’s weight
Overweight or obese pets will be putting increased weight on their painful joints, causing increased pain and making them reluctant to move. Controlled weight loss, alongside pain medication, is one of the most effective ways to improve your pet’s pain and activity levels. If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, speak to our veterinary nursing team for advice on weight management.
Keep exercise levels consistent
Sudden increases in exercise can cause dogs with osteoarthritis to suffer from increased pain over the following days. To help your pet, try to keep their exercise levels the same every day and avoid longer or more strenuous walks at the weekend.
Avoid slippery floors
Pets can struggle to grip slippery floor surfaces, with any slips or falls making their sore joints more painful. Try to provide carpeted areas, or mats, where your dog walks to give them greater stability and to reduce the risk of them slipping.
Avoid stairs and jumping in and out of the car
Dogs and cats with osteoarthritis can find it painful to go up or down stairs. If possible, try to avoid them having to use stairs as part of their daily routine. Getting in and out of the car can also be problematic for some dogs. While you might be able to pick up smaller dogs, large dogs might find a ramp useful.
Pain relief is one of the most important parts of osteoarthritis management, as uncontrolled pain will significantly decrease a pet’s quality of life. There are several types of pain medications available for your pet including;
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
- Monoclonal antibody therapy – A couple of new drugs have recently been licensed for dogs and cats
- Additional pain relief – e.g. gabapentin, tramadol
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications are frequently used to manage osteoarthritis, and there are several different types of NSAID medications that are suitable for use in cats and dogs, such as carprofen, meloxicam, and firocoxib. This treatment works to reduce the inflammation within a joint and to decrease your pet’s pain.
The long term use of NSAID medications can increase the risk of side effects on the kidneys and digestive system for some individuals. This means that our vets will advise regular check-ups and offer routine blood tests to make sure that your pet’s NSAID medication is still suitable.
Monoclonal antibody therapy
The monoclonal antibody treatments, containing bedinvetmab and frunevetmab, are a relatively new pain relief option suitable for dogs and cats with osteoarthritis. They are available in a dog and a cat version, are both given as a monthly injection at our practice, so owners do not need to give this medication at home.
Monoclonal antibody treatments target Nerve Growth Factor, which is responsible for transmitting the pain from joints affected by osteoarthritis. This treatment is then broken down by the body naturally, and it seems not to have serious side effects.
Additional pain relief
As osteoarthritis progresses, pets will often need additional pain relief to keep them comfortable. At this stage, our vets will prescribe a combination of medications to help control your pet’s increasing pain levels. The medications used will depend on your pet, so speak to one of our vets if you feel your pet’s pain is no longer being effectively controlled by their current medication.
Alternative treatments used alongside pain relief medications can improve an osteoarthritic pet’s quality of life. For some pet’s, these treatments might even enable a reduction of their long term medication, helping to minimise any side effects.
Alternative treatments available for your pet;
- Laser Treatment
For more information about these alternative treatments, speak to one of our veterinary team.
There is a wide variety of joint supplements available and while none will harm your pet, many products only have limited research to support how well they work. When choosing a joint supplement, you might wish to discuss your options with one of our vets, to help you choose the best one for your pet. Once you have started a supplement, you should monitor your pet for any signs of improvement for at least a month - and usually 8-10 weeks.
There are several surgical options that can be used to help control the progression of osteoarthritis and to reduce any uncontrolled pain. Surgery is not always suitable for every pet, so if you would like more information you can discuss potential surgical options for your pet with one of our vets.
Long term monitoring
As osteoarthritis progresses, your pet’s pain levels will change, often deteriorating over time. Our vets will regularly recheck your pet so their condition can be reassessed to ensure they are on the optimal combination of treatments.
At a recheck our vets will assess;
- How you feel your pet is coping at home and any changes to their quality of life.
- Any changes to your pet’s condition on clinical examination.
- That your pet is not showing any side effects from their medication – This might include a routine blood test to check your pet’s underlying health.
- Whether your pet’s treatment plan needs changing – This might involve altering the dose of a medication, adding in a new type of pain relief, or trying a different therapy option.
Osteoarthritis is a complex disease that will progress over time, but there are many treatments available to keep your pet comfortable. Each treatment plan is unique for every pet, so it is important that your pet is regularly reassessed to ensure they are on the correct medications and have a good quality of life.