What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a group of diseases affecting joints, such as elbows, spinal columns joints etc.

What are the forms of Arthritis?

There are several forms of arthritis. The more common forms are osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), septic arthritis (infections within the joints) and non-infectious inflammatory arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis).

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is the most common form of arthritis seen by veterinarians. As the name suggests it is due to deterioration of the joint surfaces, and can eventually leading to "unfixable" damage of the joint. In chronically affected joints the cartilage coating the ends of the bone is eroded, the surrounding joint capsule is thickened, fibrous and lacking in elasticity. Around the joint boney spurs called osteophytes and enthesiophytes interfere with joint stability (easy to dislocate).

Who is affected?

Arthritis affects not just old animals. Young animals can develop DJD form developmental disorders such as osteochondrosis (where areas of growing bone remain soft underneath joints) or hip and elbow dysplasia (where joints develop poorly). DJD induced by injury, such as car accidents, severe falls and broken bones can occur at any age.

What are the risks?

Over time any animal can develop DJD, but there are some factors that increase the risk. Working dogs, athletic cats or dogs that like jump from any height and "fat" animals place more stress on their joints. An obese animal that jumps multiplies the risks!

What are the signs?

  • Lameness – occasionally lame, slowly becoming more frequent with time, worse after exercise or changes in the weather.
  • Stiff Gait - reduced range of motion of the joints either due to pain or structural changes within the joint, such as a luxating patella (condition where "knee cup" flips in and out of its groove).
  • Joint swelling and pain - pain over the joint itself may be shown by licking or biting close to the joint.

Does my dog have Degenerative Joint Disease?

DJD can be diagnosed by examining the joints, both by feeling their movement and by viewing the radiographic changes within joints.

How do we treat DJD?

Weight loss for obese animals will reduce the strain placed on affected joints. Sensible exercise also plays a large role in allowing muscle support of joints, without the stresses of jumping and climbing.

Medical therapy for DJD is supportive and is based at providing maximum comfort for the maximum possible length of time. Over time, even with treatment, DJD is very likely to progress, but much more slowly.

Medical treatment usually involves the use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (like Metacam), to provide pain relief and Chondroprotective agents (medication that protect the "rubbing" surfaces of joints and stimulate their regrowth).

Nutritional or food supplements can also be used, but information and controlled research on their effects is variable.

Surgery is occasionally an option, such as total hip replacement, but may not suitable in many cases.