Osteoarthritis is inflammation of the cartilage, bone, membrane and fluid of the joints. We see it very commonly at Redleaves.
It is estimated that 20% of dogs over 1 year of age suffer from osteoarthritis which may even be an underestimate especially in certain breeds such as Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds.
Osteoarthritis may occur at any age, in any breed and in any joint because of normal stress placed upon abnormal cartilage or abnormal stress on normal cartilage.
We diagnose it in your stiff sore pet by taking x-rays with your pet under general aneasthetic and looking for radiographic changes in the bone or some more specialised vets may like to perform an arthroscopic investigation with your pet under general anaesthetic.
Osteoarthritis has both a chemical and a physical component. In both, a breakdown of cartilage occurs in the joint which causes the bones of the joint to rub together and so new bone is formed to stabilise the joint and the result is pain in your old pet.
Signs of Arthritis
-Stiff joints with decreased range of motion so your pet is reluctant or slow to get up in the morning
-Reduced joint support (changes in muscles and ligaments)
-Muscle weakness and wasting which you can visibly see over your pet’s front or backlegs. He may appear thinner but it is in fact only muscle mass that is lost
-Your pet may lick an area of his leg resulting in an infection where the saliva irritates the skin. This is your pet showing you where his joint is sore and the licking with his warm tongue provides some relief to his sore joint.
-Most importantly pain is evident in your pet.
To improve the progression of osteoarthritis is the key to success.
Management of osteoarthritis
1. Cranial cruciate ligament repair in the knee. The knee joint will be stabilised by various techniques depending on the size and weight of your dog and how badly the cranial cruciate ligament has ruptured. Your pet will still develop arthritis even with surgery but it will not be as severe as the arthritis that will develop if the joint is left to heal on its own without surgery.
2. Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) is a genetic condition in your pet’s shoulder. It is more common in Labrador Retrievers than other breeds. Surgical treatment involves osteochondral transplantation which is very specialised surgery in the joint to stabilise it and prevent an early onset of arthritis.
3. Growth deformities occur in breeds such as Daschunds, Corgis, Pugs or Bassets with abnormally shaped front legs. Although they are bred with these ‘deformities’, some can be so severe that the result is an early onset of arthritis as the joint is deformed.
It is treated surgically in extreme cases with external fixation. This involves cutting away some bone to prevent excessive bowing of the bone and an external splint is applied. A very docile pet is required as an excitable pet is not a good candidate for this surgery. Recovery time is slow and your pet has to put up with wires sticking out of its leg for weeks.
4. Severe cases of hip dysplasia can be treated surgically with an operation called a TPO (total pelvic osteotomy). It is very specialised and your pet would need to be insured to afford the surgery fees.
5. Another surgical techniques to help an arthritis that will not respond to any medicines is a technique called arthrodesis. This is also very specialised surgery.
6. If your pet’s hip joint is badly affected such as in small breeds with a femoral head necrosis, we may perform a complete surgical removal of the head of the femur.
7. A final drastic and more effective surgical means of control is a total joint replacement. It can be done in the hip and more recently in the elbow and knee. Again, this is very specialised.
Osteoarthritis is a commonly underestimated condition in small animal practice causing discomfort to dogs of every age.
Surgical techniques aim to reduce the progression of the osteoarthritis but rarely result in a complete cure.
Every effort should be made to combat its progression using a multi approach of drugs and environmental changes. Speak to us about any concerns you may have.