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What are osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease in pets?

Osteaoarthritis (osteo - bone, arthritis - joint inflammation and pain) and Degenerative Joint Disease are conditions resulting from wear and tear that causes inflammation of the joints, leading to swelling, pain and stiffness. Degenerative Joint Disease can result from congenital (hereditary) problems such as elbow or hip dysplasia, while osteoarthritis typically arises from trauma or injury, or simply from the normal aging process. These conditions can affect any dog at any age but are most common in older large-breed dogs. Excessive body weight (obesity) can also greatly exacerbate the issue.

Many large and giant breed dogs are genetically predisposed to degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis, especially Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Mastiffs, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands.

Cartilage functions as a buffer between the bones in a joint, and when cartilage breaks down, it reduces the efficiency of the joint's functions. This is generally considered mild arthritis and can be uncomfortable but not debilitating for pets. Severe arthritis, which can progress to bone-on-bone contact if the cartilage damage is extensive, can be extremely painful and possibly crippling.

Symptoms of mild osteoarthritis include stiffness in moving joints (hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders), favoring a limb, difficulty in rising, a hesitancy to jump, decreased activity level, and general lethargy.

Unfortunately, once osteoarthritis begins, it can continue in a "vicious circle" and become more and more severe. The pain in the joints causes the dog to exercise less and use a decreased range of motion. As a result, the muscles surrounding the affected joints lose strength and the joint therefore has less support from the surrounding tissue. The cycle continues with more pain, more muscle loss, more cartilage and joint damage, and so on.

Once the conditions begin they cannot be completely cured, but treatments and therapies are available to help maintain the health of the joints as much as possible, preventing further damage and relieving pain. Treatment options include chondroprotectants (chondro - cartilage), which are medications or supplements that work to maintain cartilage health. These types of supplements commonly include glucosamine, chondroitin, and possibly vitamins or other components. Chondroprotectants work by minimizing cartilage damage and swelling, enhancing new cartilage production, and increasing joint lubrication.

Anti-inflammatories such as Rimadyl are another option, and are typically prescribed in cases of more chronic or severe pain. These drugs work by decreasing the inflammation and swelling in the joint. The downsides to these drugs are that they do not increase joint health and can actually slow or halt the production of new cartilage. Additionally, side effects in anti-inflammatories can include kidney and liver problems, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, blood in the stool or urine, etc.

In severe cases surgery may be recommended to correct underlying problems such as hip dysplasia, bone fractures, or fragments in the joint due to injury, rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament of the knee, or luxating patellas (kneecaps). These types of problems typically must be repaired surgically to restore the joint to health and minimize the secondary osteoarthritis.

In addition to the therapies, all dogs with or prone to osteoarthritis will benefit tremendously from weight control and regular exercise.

Flint River Ranch has developed two glucosamine and chondroitin-fortified products to assist in the possible prevention and holistic treatment of osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease: our Flint River Ranch PLUS premium pet food and our Jubilee Wafers.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are naturally occurring nutritional chondroprotectants widely recommended for their potential value in helping animals suffering from or genetically predisposed to suffering from arthritis and joint pain, including osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease. These organic supplements work by minimizing cartilage damage and swelling, increasing joint lubrication, helping to rebuild the cartilage that cushions and protects joints, and enhancing new cartilage production.

Seek veterinary treatment if your pet's condition worsens. With extra care and nutrition, your pet can live a long and happy life with osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease.

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Some of the information on osteoarthritis courtesy of the Canine Inherited Disorders Database.

Related terms: hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, osteochondrodysplasia, DJD (Degenerative Joint Disease) and DDD (Degenerative Disc Disease)

FAQs: Pet Health Risks and Remedies

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