Arthritis can affect 1 in 5 adult dogs and up to 90% of cats over 12 years of age and is one of the most common chronic pain conditions that vets treat. Arthritis is unfortunately not a curable disease, but it is one that can be managed and if managed well can allow your dog or cat to continue living a happy and full life.

Arthritis (also known as osteo-arthritis and degenerative joint disease) is a degenerative progressive and irreversible disease of joints. Typically, there is loss of cartilage from joint surfaces, extra bone is laid down around the joint by the body in an attempt to stabilise the joint and fibrosis. The result of this is pain, lameness, and loss of joint movement.

Early on in the disease progress pain will only be present when the joint is in use and is seen as intermittent lameness however as it progresses the pain becomes more continual or what we term chronic and will be present continually even when the animal is at rest.

Chronic pain which we see with arthritis is quite different to acute pain which is what we experience with an injury such as a cut or fracture. While acute pain has a benefit to the body by making the animal be protective of the area that has been hurt there is actually no physiological benefit to chronic pain and it can actually lead to other pain elsewhere in the body, speed up the deterioration of the joint, muscle wastage and ultimately decrease the animal’s quality of life.

Thankfully with the advancement of veterinary medicine we have a lot of options for treating arthritis with the most common medication used been a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. However, for some animals this by itself is not enough or is not suitable for them due to having other underlying medical conditions and we must explore other options.

At OBVC one of our vets Debra has a special interest in chronic pain management and holds a GP certificate in Western Veterinary Acupuncture and Chronic Pain Management and a certificate in Canine Rehabilitation. Debra has been running successful pain management consultations in the UK for the last 4 years and now she is back in NZ she is offering this service to our clients too.

A pain consultation involves Debra obtaining a thorough clinical history from you trying to pinpoint any areas which are an indication of pain and how much it is affecting your pet’s life. Quite often there can be small subtle changes that in the owners’ eyes is not significant but can actually be a sign of pain. Following this Debra will examine your pet assessing the conditions that we know about but also looking for secondary changes that can occur such as muscular back pain from them shifting weight off a sore leg. Debra will then discuss with you the findings and start to formulate a unique management plan for your pet.

There are several components that are involved in a successful management plan for arthritis and the following areas will be discussed.

  • Medication – there are several different drugs we can use and sometimes more than one type of pain relief may be indicated to give us a synergistic effect or to minimise side effects of a particular drug.
  • Environmental management – sometimes some simple changes at home such as steps to get on the bed or couch, having a raised bed or food bowl can make a big change to your pet’s quality of life.
  • Exercise – even for old arthritic pets exercise is extremely important not just for their joints but also mental health. However, we need to make sure we are tailoring their exercise to meet their needs through short walks and often there are exercises that you can do with your pet at home to maintain muscle mass and encourage nerve responses.
  • Complementary therapy – acupuncture is a pain-relieving treatment that can be extremely helpful for some cats and dogs and Debra will discuss with you whether she feels this would be of use in your pet.

Click here to read about what acupuncture can treat