Osteoarthritis: Causes, Signs and Management

Osteoarthritis: Causes, Signs and Management

The team at Wellnergy Pets is dedicated to providing quality veterinary-grade care to you and your pets. For the month of January, we celebrated both Walk Your Pet Month and Weight Loss Awareness Month. With this, we aimed to bring awareness to hip and joint care because exercise and weight control are both crucial in management protocols, and are important in the prevention and delay of osteoarthritis. In this article we will discuss osteoarthritis and what you can do to help manage your pet’s comfort at home.



Osteoarthritis typically refers to inflammation of one or more joints. To truly understand osteoarthritis and how it affects your pets, it is important to recognize joint anatomy. A joint is defined as a part of the body where two bones meet, allowing movement and flexibility. The main components of a joint are the bone, cartilage, articular capsule and synovial capsule. Each joint is encased in the articular capsule, and between each bone lies the articular cartilage whose main purpose is to provide an attachment site for muscles, ease pressure from compression, and provide ease of movement. The articular cartilage is encased in the synovial capsule where synovial fluid is produced to lubricate the joint and reduce damage from friction between cartilage. All components of a joint work together to alleviate movement and to impart protection from friction. 


When the ends of the bones rub together, the accumulation of friction and damage leads to the eventual breakdown of cartilage. This is followed by inflammation of the joint capsule, swelling of the synovial membrane, and sharpening of bony edges. These are all characteristics of osteoarthritis and the severity, depending on how this is managed, can either be delayed or worsened over time.



Causes and Symptoms

Osteoarthritis, although often believed to be directly tied to old age, can actually be caused by several factors. For example, lifestyle and history - such as previous injuries or orthopedic procedures - play a significant role in the development of joint disease. Excess activity levels can contribute to an increase of wearing down of joints. Breed predispositions and conformational development also contribute to the nature of an animal’s joints, and can result in hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and patellar luxation, among many other joint diseases. Large breed dogs, for instance, are known to be more prone to hip dysplasia, and are often being brought into the veterinary clinic to be seen for discomfort associated with arthritis. 


One of the most commonly overlooked contributors to osteoarthritis in pets is obesity. To reiterate, the purpose of the cartilage in joints is to help provide flexibility and to resist pressure from compression. When a pet is overweight, there is an increase in pressure between the bones in a joint, making it more difficult to withstand compression. Overtime, this can quicken the breakdown of cartilage and lead to more clinical complications, such as osteoarthritis.


Damage to and inflammation of the joints often lead to discomfort in pets. The clinical signs of osteoarthritis, although common, can easily be overlooked if owners do not know what signs to look for. With the proper guidance, symptoms of arthritis are easily identifiable. For example, pets experiencing arthritis may exhibit stiffness and/or lameness, difficulty standing up and laying down, hesitancy to jump or pursue stairs, decreased stamina, or aggressive behavior when touched in certain parts of the body. If you observe any of these symptoms in your pet, it is likely that they are in discomfort.



While there is currently no cure for osteoarthritis in pets, there are several different options available for its management both at home and in-hospital. 


For home management, provide pets with soft bedding, accessible water and food bowls, and ramps as opposed to stairs. Although small and seemingly insignificant, all of these items can actually help slow down onset of osteoarthritis by reducing the wearing down of the joints over time.


Pain medications may also be used to help manage the discomfort associated with osteoarthritis. NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Carprofen and Meloxicam, can be prescribed by your veterinarian to help ease arthritic inflammation. Similarly, prescription medications such as Gabapentin and Grapiprant can be used instead of or in conjunction with NSAIDs to help relieve pain from arthritis. 


Supplementation is also often used with pain medications to help manage pain from osteoarthritis. Our Hip & Joint Care supplements, for instance, are rich in chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega fatty acids to help provide the building blocks for synovial fluid and articular cartilage. Our supplements also contain New Zealand green lipped mussel, a powerful and natural-occurring superfood that is known to be rich in anti-inflammatory properties that help promote cartilage regrowth.


Veterinary intervention of osteoarthritis is warranted for more severe cases. This includes physical therapy with rehabilitation facilities and/or orthopedic surgeries such as Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomies and Femoral Head Ostectomies. Such interventions require extensive consultations with your veterinarian.


Alternatively, it is commonly accepted among many veterinarians that prevention is key in avoiding severe development of osteoarthritis in pets. Allowing young pets to reach their full growth potential before spaying and neutering has shown benefits in the prevention of arthritis - this is typically around 6 months of age in small breed dogs and sometimes over 1 year of age in large breed dogs. Good daily exercise is also important in keeping your pets’ joints healthy. Weight loss and management in overweight pets is the ultimate goal of regular exercise, which is why the team at Wellnergy Pets is excited to observe Walk Your Pet Month and Weight Loss Awareness Month for January.

The amount of osteoarthritis cases in pets is especially consistent but often overlooked by unaware owners. With the proper guidance, you can help steer your pets towards a healthy lifestyle, and use several resources available to you to prevent the development of osteoarthritis, keeping your pets happy and jumping for joy. For further guidance and medical advice, consult your veterinarian.

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