Degenerative joint disease, more commonly called arthritis, is a chronic condition characterized by a progressive deterioration of the joint cartilage. This condition often results from joint instability (i.e. hip dysplasia), joint injury, joint inflammation or infection, and age.
Common signs of arthritis can include limping, difficulty rising from a sitting position, pain when the affected joint is touched, or a reluctance to walk, jump, play, or climb stairs. These symptoms can be more apparent during cold or damp weather or following heavy exercise.
Management of arthritis is done through weight control, exercise, and drug therapy. Obesity places more stress on already painful joints making weight reduction necessary for overweight pets. Exercise helps maintain muscle and ligament tone which reduces stress on the arthritic joints. Exercise should be low impact (i.e. leash walks, swimming) and moderate. The degree of exercise should be one that the animal can tolerate without resulting in pain and stiffness. Strict rest is needed short term for severely affected animals.
There are three main types of medicinal therapy for arthritis: non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), nutraceuticals, and steroids. The most common NSAIDS recommended for canine arthritis at AAC are Rimadyl and Metacam. These two products work by relieving pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. The potential side effects with long term use of Rimadyl or Metacam are low with the most common being vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite. Nutraceuticals, such as Dasuquin, are dietary supplements that provide the raw materials needed for the production of joint cartilage components. They also protect the joint cartilage from further destruction. Noticeable changes in the animal occur more slowly with these products than NSAIDS as the body requires time for utilization of the raw materials. Therefore, owners may nonotice a change in their pet for up to 4-6 weeks. There are many types of these products available. These products differ in purity and in amount of the ingredients and the price. AAC recommends t Dasuquin because these products were developed specifically for animals. There are no known side effects to date.
Lastly, steroids are often reserved for severe cases of arthritis that fail to respond to NSAIDs or nutraceutical therapy. Steroids used long term can have systemic side effects and further degrade joint cartilage.
AAC has brochures available on Rimadyl, Metacam and Dasuquin. If additional information is requested, please schedule an appointment for your animal if you suspect arthritic changes.