is a complex condition involving inflammation of one or more joints. Arthritis is derived from the Greek word "arthro", meaning "joint", and "itis", meaning inflammation. There are many causes of arthritis in pets. In most cases, the arthritis is a progressive degenerative disease that worsens with age.
What causes arthritis?
Arthritis can be classified as primary arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis or secondary arthritis which occurs as a result of joint instability.
Secondary arthritis is the most common form diagnosed in veterinary patients. The most common type of secondary arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA) which is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). Some common causes of secondary arthritis include obesity, hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament rupture, and so forth. Other causes include joint infection, often as the result of bites (septic arthritis), or traumatic injury such as a car accident.
Infective or septic arthritis can be caused by a variety of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Septic arthritis normally only affects a single joint and the condition results in swelling, fever, heat and pain in the joint. With septic arthritis, your pet is likely to stop eating and become depressed.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an immune mediated, erosive, inflammatory condition. Cartilage and bone are eroded within affected joints and the condition can progress to complete joint fixation (ankylosis). It may affect single joints or multiple joints may be involved (polyarthritis). In certain dog breeds Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) factors can be detected with blood tests. Other types of immune mediated arthritis can be non-erosive, such as arthritis that is associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE). SLE is often accompanied by other clinical signs in addition to the arthritis.
How do we treat arthritis?
Treatment will depend on the cause of arthritis. Immune mediated and rheumatoid arthritis are usually treated with high doses of corticosteroids, often with dramatic improvement. The control of these conditions often involves the long-term use of corticosteroids and other drugs such as immunosuppressive or cytotoxic agents.
The treatment of septic arthritis involves determining the type of microorganism involved and its antibiotic sensitivity. Antibiotics are usually administered for a minimum of a month and analgesics (pain relief medications) are necessary to combat pain and inflammation.
Analgesics such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common form of treatment for osteoarthritis. It is important to select these medications with care since some dogs are more sensitive than others to the potential side-effects of analgesics. The most common side-effects of analgesics include decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Pre-medication blood tests must be performed to make sure that the pet can safely metabolize and eliminate the medication and then periodic blood tests are necessary to ensure continued safe usage.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, DHA and EPA, have been proven in humans to help with the discomfort of osteoarthritis. Nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and/or chondroitin, are also helpful in many cases. Talk with your veterinarian about these safe and simple to administer nutritional supplements and whether your pet could benefit from their use. Combining omega-3 fatty acids with glucosamine-chondroitin sulfate and NSAID therapy will help the majority of patients suffering from OA.
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