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Arthritis, A Silent Disease...

Without question, arthritis is a very common disease that may affect our beloved canine companions in many ways. Arthritis is the progressive and permanent long term deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the joints; in other words, the joints don’t function as smoothly as they should. The most common signs of arthritis include stiffness, slow to rise or lay down, reluctance to go up stairs or move, panting or shaking while at rest, unexplained behavioral changes such as aggression, limping, decreased jumping along with various other signs that may differ from dog to dog. Some canines may have very subtle signs while others may have very obvious ones. Remember, animals communicate significantly by body language and actions that they exhibit. The observation of these actions are our job as owners and veterinarians to interpret. Arthritis affects approximately one out of five dogs, and the incidence doubles in canines older than seven years. Although the patient cannot be cured of the disease, the disease can be managed with varying degrees of success.

The primary cause of arthritis is not fully understood but some secondary causes include trauma and congenital defects. A diagnosis is made based on clinical signs, physical exam and radiographs. Treatment for arthritis involves a multimodal approach in order to decrease pain and discomfort. There are several aspects that should be taken into consideration when developing the best management plan for your pet.

Diet and weight are contributing factors that can help ease the complications of arthritis. The leaner the dog, the less stress on the joints. Exercise helps keep your dog at an ideal weight and keeps them healthy not only cardiovascular –wise but also musculoskeletal- wise too. Low impact exercise is best such as swimming or walking. Diet is also very important in helping arthritis patients. Unquestionably, there are several excellent dog foods that have specific ingredients such as high levels of EPA’s that target the joints specifically. Some foods even contain joint supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin that are excellent for joint health but always consult your veterinarian on the type and amount of food to feed. Not all dog food is equal in ingredients and nutritional value and it is very important to seek advice!

Your veterinarian may prescribe medications to make your dog more comfortable. Medications include NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that are specific for canines that include but are not limited to Rimadyl, Metacam, and Deramaxx along with other pain medications such as tramadol and gabapentin. The type of medication will depend on any pre-existing conditions that your dog may have in addition to the severity of the arthritis pain. It is very important to never give your pet human medications without first consulting your veterinarian! Human medications or any medications for that matter can be life-threatening if given inappropriately!

Some complimentary therapies that may be helpful to pets suffering from arthritis include acupuncture, massage therapy, physical therapy, and laser therapy. Other ways to keep your dog more comfortable is by having soft bedding for them to lay on, ramps instead of stairs, and elevated food and water bowls.

No disease is a fun disease, and this is no exception with arthritis, but together, you and your veterinarian can make a therapeutic plan for your beloved companion and one should never hesitate to call.

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