Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.
One of the most common diseases I see in aging pets is degenerative joint disease, otherwise known as osteoarthritis. I would guess that about 85% of my clients’ aging pets develop some form of osteoarthritis as they become older. Patients come to me with symptoms such as difficulty standing, no longer jumping up on furniture, wanting to go on shorter walks, avoiding stairs, and restlessness. Many arthritis symptoms in our pets go unnoticed, and it is difficult for my clients to see that their pets are in pain. I cannot count the number of times that I have placed a dog in pain with arthritis symptoms on pain medication or supplements for their joints, and clients call me later, excited about the noticeable improvements. Today I would like to discuss degenerative joint disease and all the best treatment options for our pets.
What is degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis?
Arthritis is the medical term for inflammation of the joints, while osteoarthritis refers to a form of chronic joint inflammation caused by deterioration of joint cartilage. Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is defined as the progressive and permanent long-term deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the joints. Older dogs are at the highest risk for DJD.
What are the common clinical signs of DJD?
Symptoms can vary with each pet, and many times, my clients do not even realize their pets are in pain. Symptoms include:
- Decreased level of activity
- Occasional lameness, and a stiff walk that worsens with exercise
- No longer jumping up on furniture
- Hesitant to climb up stairs
- Difficulty and slowness rising from lying down
- Becoming more recluse and isolated (especially with cats)
- Reluctance to go on walks or stopping and turning back home in the middle of the walk
What can I do to help my pet suffering from DJD?
Pain Relief and Medications
There are many analgesic medications (pain relievers) that can help a cat or dog in pain feel better. The most utilized pain relievers are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as Rimadyl, Deramax, Novox or Metacam. These joint medicines for dogs and cats help reduce swelling, stiffness and joint pain. Other pain medications that are used for arthritis symptoms include Tramadol, Gabapentin, Buprenorphine and Fentanyl. Speak with your veterinarian regarding the right pain reliever to use for your pet. It is very important to never give your pet any medications without consulting with your veterinarian first.
Natural Supplements (Nutraceuticals)
I am a big fan of supplements. Glucosamine chondroitin sulfate is a great all-natural joint supplement that helps promote joint health and prevent degeneration of the bones and joints. I recommend starting all dogs on this supplement as early as puppyhood. Joints are made of cartilage, and healthy cartilage cells (chondrocytes) use glucosamine to produce glycosaminoglycans and hyaluronan, which are necessary for healthy cartilage and joints. In addition, glucosamine regulates the synthesis of collagen and proteoglycans, which are also necessary for healthy cartilage and joints. Glucoamsine supplementation is shown to exhibit mild anti-inflammatory properties. Healthy chondrocytes, or cartilage cells, normally produce glucosamine from glucose and amino acids. Chondroitin sulfate appears to inhibit destructive enzymes in joint fluid and cartilage, reduce clot formation, and aid in stimulating the production of glycosaminoglycans and proteoglycans. As pets age, develop diseases, or are exposed to trauma, the ability to produce glucosamine diminishes. Supplementing glucosamine into your pet’s diet aids in glucosamine production and overall better health and maintenance of joints.
These supplements come in many forms—pills, tabs, oils, sprays and treats. I love Nutramax Cosequin Maximum Strength (DS) Plus MSM Chewable Tablets Joint Health Supplement for Dogs and Nutramax Cosequin Capsules Joint Health Cat Supplement. Other effective supplements include Nutramax Cosequin Maximum Strength with MSM Plus Omega-3’s Mini Soft Chews, which support healthy skin and coat, and Nutramax Dasuquin Soft Chews for a cost-effective formulation.
Adequan is another natural supplement that I use for treatment of DJD. This comes in an injectable form, and the recommended dosing is six treatments in 3 weeks, and then one time per month for maintenance therapy. Speak with your veterinarian regarding glucosamine chondroitin benefits and which supplements are best for your pet.
Cold Laser Therapy
This is a newer treatment modality that has really taken off in veterinary medicine. It even works well on humans! This is a non-invasive, natural form of treatment that is showing remarkable results. Cold laser therapy, also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) uses wavelengths of light to interact with tissue, and is thought to help accelerate the body’s healing process. The laser beam is moved over the skin so that the light energy (photons) penetrates the tissue. There, it interacts with various molecules (chromophores) and causes different biological effects that reduce pain related to inflammation, and help healing.
Acupuncture and physical therapy are alternative treatments that can help control your pet’s pain and help well-being. Underwater treadmills and swimming are great forms of exercise and therapy for aching joints. Many vet hospitals and veterinarians perform acupuncture—ask your veterinarian about referral centers that offer these types of treatments.
Maintain Your Pet’s Proper Weight
One of the most important things you can do to help prevent DJD in your pets is making sure they are at a proper weight and not overweight or obese. This might be one of the biggest contributing factors to this disease, and the biggest culprit for a cat or dog in pain. Our pets rely on us for their well-being, so make sure to keep them healthy and slim.
Many times pets cannot tell us when something hurts or if they are not comfortable. Degenerative joint disease is a slow, progressive process that takes place over many years, so pets learn to adapt to the pain and discomfort over time. The majority of the time, they will not exhibit the typical limping or obvious signs of a cat or dog in pain. I hope these suggestions will help you to recognize some subtle changes in your pet’s behavior that may indicate discomfort or pain. As veterinarians, there are many treatments and measures we can take to help your pet feel better and live a more comfortable, happier life all the way into their golden years.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian. They are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.