Dr Liezle Crous is a vet at Kylami Main Veterinary Clinic and is our June 2021 Vet of the Month.

This month, she is giving us deeper insight into osteoarthritis — what the signs are, what you can do to ease the pain, and what vets can do to help you give your pet the happiest life possible while living with this condition.

As veterinary medicine continues to become more advanced and we take our pet’s health more seriously our pets are getting older than ever, this means that vets are dealing with an increasing amount of age-related degenerative joint conditions such as osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common reasons why dogs and cats over 8 years of age visit the vet. The jump off the couch takes longer than usual, climbing up the stairs becomes an entire event, lying down is followed by a painful groan and walks become progressively “lazier”. As our pets get older normal behaviors start requiring more effort as arthritis sets in. Fortunately, you can help your friend be more comfortable and delay the progression of this disease before it is too late.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is sometimes referred to as degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease. It is the most common type of arthritis in dogs and cats as it occurs due to wear and tear on your pet’s joints over a lifetime. It is generally worse at the start of the day or after resting.

As your pet’s joints age the cartilage layer becomes thinner and the cells die off. The dying cells produce various enzymes that triggers inflammation in the joint. Once the cartilage at the ends of bones wears away the bone is left exposed to rub on neighboring bone. This causes pain, swelling, fluid production, new abnormal bone formation, stiffness and chronic changes in the joint that are often irreversible.

Although osteoarthritis has no cure, we know first-hand that prompt treatment can reduce pain, improve mobility, and reduce progression of the disease by turning back the clock. Factors which increase your pets’ chance of developing arthritis include genetic and breed predispositions, excess weight, and injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament injuries.

How does my vet diagnose OA?

There is no single test for osteoarthritis and early detection can be challenging. Vets rely on pet owners to detect subtle signs of pain, lameness, inactivity, and muscle deterioration at home. Once the pet owner recognizes that there may be a problem a physical examination needs to be performed by the vet.

During the physical examination, your vet will perform a stance evaluation, movement analysis and a joint palpation to check for any swelling, abnormal motion, crepitus, instability, and reduced range of motion.

Should your vet detect a problem they may want to admit your pet to hospital for more tests. It is important to have these tests performed to confirm the suspicion of and to grade the severity of the underlying osteoarthritis.

Unfortunately, some cases go undiagnosed or are diagnosed late in the disease process after significant joint damage has occurred.

At Kyalami Main Vet our vets use a range of tools to diagnose osteoarthritis including clinical metrology instruments, muscle mass evaluation and direct digital radiography with added SignalPET Artificial Intelligence Technology to read your pet’s radiographs.

How can I help my pet?

Osteoarthritis is best treated using a multi-modal approach. It is important for the pet owner to understand that their pet’s osteoarthritis needs to be managed for the rest of that pet’s lifetime, this involves certain lifestyle changes.

Exercise should be performed in moderation but should never be stopped. Non weight-bearing exercise such as swimming and hydrotherapy is excellent at strengthening muscles around joints. Slow, controlled leash walking for conservative distances can be undertaken but the owner should assess their pet on an individual basis.

A fundamental rule in the management of this disease is that the pet should be kept at an ideal weight to limit any further stress on joints. We recommend the Hills J/D + Mobility Range of dog and cat food as the diet promotes weight loss while supplying essential joint supplementation. Should you not choose a food without a supplement incorporated into the kibble a joint supplement should be added to our pet’s diet.

Supplements such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine delay the progression of osteoarthritis and pet owners should not underestimate the effects of these supplements.

Physical therapy and acupuncture are complimentary treatment options available to pet owners. We perform acupuncture on request at the clinic.

How can my vet help?

Every patient is different, and we create personalized plans based on pet compliance, disease severity and sustainability.

Once your pet’s osteoarthritis becomes unmanageable with the above recommendations alone your vet may prescribe one of several medical treatment options. Pentosan polysulfate injections are a wonderful treatment choice as it limits cartilage degeneration, promotes new cartilage formation, thickens the joint fluid, improves blood supply to the joints and treats all the joints in your pet’s body at the same time. A course of 4-once weekly injections is needed to start the treatment process.

Should your pet’s pain still be poorly managed we may prescribe pain medications such as NSAIDs (Previcox, Rimadyl, Onsior), Gabapentin, Tramadol, Amantadine and Acetaminophen alone or in varying combinations. Your veterinarian will ask that blood tests be performed to confirm normal liver and kidney function before starting on chronic medication. These tests will need to be repeated every 6 months to ensure that the medications are being tolerated by your pet’s system.

Lastly, should your pet not respond to medical treatment we may need to refer your pet to a specialist surgeon for a joint replacement surgery or salvage procedure.

We strive to keep your pet healthy, happy and pain-free for as long as possible.