Canine osteoarthritis: improving quality of life

01 October 2011
10 mins read
Volume 2 · Issue 8


Osteoarthritis is a painful, non-curable, progressive disease of the joint. Clinical signs include stiffness, lameness, and reduced activity. Treatment of the disease usually focuses on pain relief and management to improve the animal's quality of life. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are considered the treatment of choice but it may not always be possible to prescribe these because many of the dogs presented will be geriatric and may have impaired liver and kidney function. There are a number of other ways to help relieve the pain in these animals. Some of the most common treatments for the management of the disease include hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, weight management, dietary supplementation, and drug therapy. Veterinary nurses can play an invaluable role in supporting owners and monitoring a dog's response to treatment through arthritis clinics. Some owners may not be aware that this condition does not have to be an unfortunate process of old age but can be treated.

Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease, is a progressive and non-curable condition which causes degeneration of articular cartilage, fibrosis of peri-articular tissue and new bone formation. It is estimated that 20% of the canine population in the UK over 1 year of age have some form of OA (Johnston, 2001). There are two types of OA — primary and secondary. Primary OA implies that there are no inciting causes involved in the disease but, as this is unlikely, idiopathic OA is a more accurate term. OA is usually secondary to previous joint damage such as trauma or developmental disorders (George and Slater, 2003).

Dogs with OA commonly present with abnormal gait, lameness, pain in affected joints, crepitus in extension or flexion of joints, exercise intolerance, muscle atrophy, and stiffness.

There are also behavioural signs that owners may put down to ‘old age’ rather than chronic pain associated with this disease. These may be restlessness, changes in sleep pattern, increased irritability or aggression, reduced social behaviour, depression, and anxiety (Grant, 2006).

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