Osteoarthritis (OA) is a slow progressive, degenerative disease associated with the freely movable joints within the canine body. Another way to envision canine OA is when the destruction of the joint’s structures (such as cartilage) exceeds the production creating varying degrees of pain and discomfort to our adored companions. Why then is OA so important to us and our canine cohorts? Recent accounts in the literature suggest that approximately twenty percent of dogs over the age of one already have some minor degradation of the joint’s structure…thus making OA a significant canine disorder.
The canine skeletal system consists of numerous, separate, long bones that are fastened together by connective tissue creating an articulation or joint. A synovial joint is a freely movable joint that has a space between the two articulating bones. The synovial joint is comprised of a fibrous capsule surrounding the joint and a very thin layer called the synovial membrane. The synovial membrane is very important in the load-bearing capacity of the joint because it produces the viscous fluid found in the joint that helps with the frictionless motion of the joint. Joint fluid/synovial fluid also produces nutrients to the articular cartilage which covers the ends of the bones. Finally, the tendons, ligaments and muscles help provide flexibility and support to the synovial joint.
Athletic stresses or repetitive trauma to the joint can lead to injury of the cartilage cells. Over time, inflammation results in the thickening of the fibrous joint capsule, formation of bone spurs, decreased flexibility, and painful swelling.
Diagnosing OA in the canine patient is most commonly done by a veterinarian during a thorough physical examination and, in most cases, is based on the owners’ observations and the patients’ clinical signs. One of the most common owner complaints is that their bird dog has difficulty getting up, and they are stiff after long periods of rest.
Treatment of OA is targeted towards management of the clinical signs associated with pain rather than a cure for the disease…OA is a non-curable, degenerative joint disease. Important management measures would include such therapies as nutritional regulation, weight loss and control, routine low-intensity exercise (walking and swimming), physical therapy, nutriceuticals (Glucosamine and Chondroitin, MSM, SAM(e), vitamin B-3, fish oils high in Omega-3 fatty acids, etc), acupuncture, shock-wave therapy, laser therapy, and gene therapy.
Some patients continue to be painful after the implementation of conservative treatments…these patients generally require pain relief in an additional form. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. Rimadyl, Metacam, Deramaxx, etc) may be prescribed to the OA patient whom sustains uncontrollable pain. NSAID’s reduce pain by eliminating the inflammatory process. Although they reduce arthritic pain, they also have their shortcomings. NSAID’s do not provide support or lubricate the joint in any manner, and they may cause gastrointestinal upset and associated kidney or liver problems with chronic usage.
Managing OA successfully in our bird dogs requires a basic general knowledge of the joint’s function and structure, as well as understanding how OA develops. Once armed with this knowledge, we can combine numerous treatments to help alleviate our pets’ arthritic pain. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, weight control, physical therapy, nutriceuticals, alternative therapies, and judicial usage of NSAID’s in combination may possibly provide comfort and help maintain adequate function of the joints; ultimately furnishing our canine companions with a healthier and happier life.