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By Sarah A. Balaguer, DVM, MS
Also known as degenerative joint disease, is a condition that commonly affects our small animal companions. Many pet owners will notice more obvious signs of arthritis such as limping, hesitation to jump off and on of higher surfaces, or difficulty posturing to urinate or defecate. Other common observations are difficulty rising from a lying position to a standing position and slowing down on long walks. While osteoarthritis is one of the most common reasons for pet’s to behave as such, there are other important conditions to consider. Depending on the age, breed, and possibly gender of your pet, certain diseases should be ruled out by your family veterinarian before it is assumed that your pet has arthritis and treatment is begun. If limping for example came on suddenly we would want to rule out a possible fracture, joint dislocation, or the presence of a foreign object such as a thorn or insect stinger. Other possibilities include a joint infection, tick borne disease, autoimmune disorder, or even bone cancer. Hind end weakness may not be primarily an orthopedic problem but rather a neurologic disorder. Special physical examinations where reflexes, limb strength, muscle tone, and gait analysis along with other physical assessments and diagnostic tests can be performed to rule out specific nerve, disc, or spinal cord diseases. If your pet does indeed have degenerative joint disease, various recommendations will be made to help enhance the quality of their life. Common treatments include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and analgesics. Supplements such as omega fatty acids and glucosamine chondroitin have become so popular that they have been incorporated into various pet foods and treats. Also gaining in popularity are physical therapy, acupuncture and herbal therapy. Veterinarians trained in these areas can be consulted to determine if your pet is a good candidate for these treatment modalities. One of the most overlooked areas is pet obesity. With arthritic patients, every extra pound is contributing to greater difficulty performing everyday tasks and therefore diminishing the quality of their life. And remember your family veterinarian wants what’s best for your companion just as much as you do so they will likely recommend periodic blood screening, radiographs or other follow up assessments to determine the efficacy and safety of the treatments individually selected for your pet.