Older woman cuddling her older dog Has your pet stopped jumping with enthusiasm when you come home? Are they avoiding flights of stairs or seem stiff and slow to get up from lying down?

They may be showing the early signs of osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. This form of arthritis is very common in both humans and their animal companions. Inflammation of the joints can progress to the point where your pet may become reluctant to exercise, lame and lose muscle tone.

While osteoarthritis can affect any pet, it is most common in  older animals  previously active animals or those with a history of a joint or bone-related injury  those breeds that have a tendency to hip dysplasia and other orthopaedic growth problems

Damage to the joint (through injury or wear and tear with age) causes the release of inflammatory mediators. This in turn causes loss of the special lubricating (synovial) fluid, changes to the joint’s blood supply, and abnormal bone formation. The end result is reduced mobility of the joint and pain.

Although the changes occurring with arthritis are largely irreversible, there are many things that we can do to make our pets feel more comfortable and to slow down the progression of the disease.

These include:

  • moderate your pet’s exercise: re-consider long runs or highly active playtimes if your pet’s signs seems worse afterwards; consider increasing low impact activities such as swimming instead
    avoid stairs and jumping – use ramps if possible weight control – overweight pets are more likely to develop arthritis, and have more severe signs provide an elevated bed away from draughts and be sure to keep your pet warm in winter.
  • Supplementation with glucosamine and fatty acids – your veterinarian can help you with the best products to use. These include specially formulated diets, injectables and powders/capsules.
    Anti-inflammatories and other medications that help provide pain relief. These must be prescribed by your veterinarian after a complete health examination – human medications can be dangerous for your pet and should never be given without direction. Your vet will be able to advise you of the benefits and possible side effects of using these products
  • Although prevention is not always possible, it is important to know that early detection can significantly slow the disease progressing. Puppies of large breeds that are known to have joint-related problems (such as hip and elbow dysplasias) should not be over-fed or over-exercised to reduce the likelihood of later problems.