- Cullman, Alabama


June 23, 2013

Pet Talk: Preventive steps best action against arthritis

The Aggie family lost a beloved member when Reveille VII, the retired mascot of Texas A&M University, died recently. Ever since her arrival in Aggieland, Reveille VII, a female American Collie, had been receiving the best care available at the Small Animal Hospital at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science.

Stacy Eckman, a lecturer at the school, had been treating Rev for arthritis since last August, when Rev’s caregivers, Tina and Paul Gardner, noticed that she was having trouble sitting down like she normally would.

“Arthritis can attack bones and joints in animals the same way the disease does in humans,” said Zachary Goodrich, a veterinary resident instructor. “However some animals, especially dogs, can be affected by arthritis at a much younger age than humans generally are. Some pets will be affected by arthritis before they are even one year old.”

Reveille VII was twelve and a half.

Although there is no certain way to prevent arthritis in pets, owners can help stave off arthritis by making sure their dog has a good, healthy diet and gets plenty of exercise.

“Dogs that are overweight tend to be more affected by arthritis,” Eckman said.

Reveille VII did not have that problem. “Tina Gardener did a great job keeping Reveille slim and fit, even with her reduced activity level in retirement,” Eckman said.

“Consistent low-impact exercise such as walking and swimming helps maintain good muscle mass as well as keeping your pet at an ideal body weight,”  Goodrich said. “The more extra weight your pet carries around, the higher the stress being placed across its joints which may worsen the arthritis or affect your pet’s quality of life.”

There are several signs for pet-owners to look for if they suspect their animal is suffering from arthritis.

“The most obvious sign is decreased activity level, “said Goodrich. “The animal may not want to go as far as it used to on a walk or may not want to walk at all. Other signs can include stiffness when rising, especially after sleeping, and varying degrees of lameness.” It is also important to have your animal examined.

A veterinarian can take x-rays of the affected joints to diagnose arthritis. However, x-ray images can’t determine the disease’s severity.

“Their signs on x-rays don’t necessarily coordinate with their physical findings,” Eckman said. In other words, a lack of change in the x-rays doesn’t mean your pet’s arthritis isn’t getting worse.

Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are a number of treatments available to help your arthritic pet feel better. These treatments vary depending on the severity of the case.

Early detection—before the disease has progressed too far—is important to help maintain your pet’s ability to walk, run and play.

“There are several surgical and medical treatment options available depending on which joint is affected,” said Goodrich. “Joint replacements are performed on a case-by-case basis. Arthroscopy is also routinely used to evaluate and treat the joint in a minimally invasive manner.”

A veterinarian may give your dog steroid injections to help relieve inflammation. Drugs, such as polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections, help protect cartilage with minimal side effects.

“Medical options include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, of which there are several on the veterinary medical market,” Eckman  said. “Most of them are actually formulated for osteoarthritis.” However, never give your pets human medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin, as they can cause serious harm to your pet’s stomach, kidneys, and liver.

“When you use the drugs together, you can actually use less drugs overall because they complement each other,” Eckman said.

Physical therapy, such as work on a water treadmill, is very important.

“Treatment for arthritis sometimes requires multiple types of therapy,” said Jacqueline Davidson, an A&M clinical professor. “Reveille was given several different types of oral medication for pain and inflammation and received injections of a joint lubricant and a steroid into several of the more severely affected joints. She also received injections of a medication in the muscle to help with joint pain and inflammation.”

Reveille's diet was also controlled throughout her therapy to make sure that she stayed at a lean body weight, and she took several different dietary supplements for her joints, one of which was an omega-3 fatty acid, to help reduce pain associated with inflammation.

“Being overweight results in more stress on the joints because they are supporting more weight,” said Davidson. “In addition, excess body fat promotes inflammation in the body and can worsen the signs of arthritis.”

Reveille came to the A&M veterinary physical rehabilitation service several times weekly. Her treatments included electro-acupuncture and laser therapy for pain and she exercised regularly in the underwater treadmill.

“Walking in water is helpful for arthritis because the buoyancy of the water reduces stress on the joints, allowing for more comfortable movement,” said Davidson. “In addition, the water provides some resistance, which helps promote leg strength.”

A veterinarian can give recommendations for various dietary supplements and a home exercise plan, as well as provide dietary counseling to choose the most appropriate diet to maintain lean body weight in your pet.

“There is no one right recipe for every dog,” Eckman said. “You have options, and you have to determine what works and what doesn’t work.”

 Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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