Ever wonder what people are really talking about when they use the term ‘arthritis’? Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joint. There are different types of arthritis but the most common is degenerative joint disease (DJD). DJD, or osteoarthritis, is a chronic, progressive disease by which the cartilage in the joint that provides a cushion between the bones is broken down. This exposes the underlying bone and causes pain by allowing the bones to rub against each other. The rubbing causes irregular bone growth at the ends of the bone which also contributes to the pain. Cartilage break down can occur secondary to joint instability (due to ligament damage or trauma), disease within a joint, or because of chronic wear and tear on old joints. In dogs, we generally see secondary osteoarthritis because of chronic joint problems like hip dysplasia and knee injuries.
Often, we only begin to talk about arthritis in our pets when they are clearly having trouble getting up, or have a hard time taking the stairs or getting into the car. In cats, we may see that they do not want to jump as high as they used to. When we see these signs our pets are telling us that they are in a significant amount of pain. There can be earlier changes in younger pets that can signify the beginning of osteoarthritis. Generally speaking, the dog that gets sore or stiff after a day at the park, or the cat who’s walking just a little different.
It is important to talk to your veterinarian about any changes that you notice in your pet’s mobility at any age. The most important factors in controlling and slowing down osteoarthritis are weight management, routine exercise and anti-inflammatory medication as needed. Additionally, there are special diets and supplements that can help to prolong the strength of the cartilage in the joints and decrease inflammation. The earlier you take steps to improve joint health, the longer your pet will live an active, comfortable life.