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Pet Health: Ask the Expert; Evan Antin at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital

imagesOsteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most common disorders seen in small animal veterinary medicine, particularly in older patients. Also known as “Degenerative Joint Disease,” canine osteoarthritis is a chronic, progressive disease. It refers to inflammation of the joints and their associated bones. Some physical changes can occur including bone destruction, abnormal bone re-growth, scar tissue proliferation and soft tissue swelling around a joint. The most commonly affected joints are the hips, knees, elbows, and spine as well as the carpi (wrist) and hock (ankle) joints. It is important to understand that as a progressive disease process, osteoarthritis will continue to worsen during a pet’s life, and our goal as veterinarians is to slow down the progression and ensure the comfort of your pet.

Causes of osteoarthritis usually involve long-term joint stress and joint cartilage deterioration. Acute injuries, congenital or developmental joint deformities, and inherited conditions can also lead to the development of osteoarthritis.  Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include one or more of the following: Lameness/abnormal gait, stiffness (especially after waking up), reluctance to run or jump or go upstairs, slow to sit and/or rise, decreased interest in playful activity or walks, sensitivity near affected joints when touched, restlessness/unable to get comfortable, joint clicking or grinding during motion, and more. Many pet-owners don’t realize their pets are showing clinical signs as these often develop gradually on top of the fact that most animals’ natural instinct is to hide pain or discomfort as a survival mechanism.

Routine veterinary exams are the first step to diagnosing osteoarthritis.  During the exam veterinarians gather a history from the doggypet owner, perform an orthopedic exam including joint palpation, manipulation and range of motion movements, and may take digital radiographs (x-rays) to specifically localize and grade the degree of disease.  Your veterinarian will then formulate a treatment plan that usually begins with lifestyle and dietary changes and often includes medical management and, potentially, orthopedic surgery. Obesity is a huge player in osteoarthritis and weight loss is absolutely critical for many patients to reduce the rate of OA progression. Joint care supplements, including glucosamine & chondroitin sulfate, as well as physical therapy can be good options for initial OA management.

If you are concerned for your pet’s orthopedic health, be proactive and schedule a wellness exam with your veterinarian. The sooner the condition is diagnosed, the longer your pet may be able to enjoy day-to-day activity in comfort.

-Evan Antin, DVM at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital

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