Arthritis and Your Pet
Posted June 17, 2013
The Aggie family lost a beloved member when Reveille
VII, the retired mascot of Texas A&M University, died last
week. Ever since her arrival in Aggieland, Reveille VII, a female
American Collie, had been receiving the best care available at the
Small Animal Hospital at the
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Science (CVM). Stacy Eckman, a lecturer at the CVM, had been
treating Rev for arthritis since last August, when Rev's
caregivers, Tina and Paul Gardner, noticed that she was having
trouble sitting down like she normally would.
"Arthritis can attack bones and joints in animals the same way
the disease does in humans," said Zachary Goodrich, veterinary
resident instructor at the CVM. "However some animals, especially
dogs, can be affected by arthritis at a much younger age than
humans generally are. Some pets will be affected by arthritis
before they are even one year old."
Reveille VII was twelve and a half.
Although there is no certain way to prevent arthritis in pets,
owners can help stave off arthritis by making sure their dog has a
good, healthy diet and gets plenty of exercise.
"Dogs that are overweight tend to be more affected by
arthritis," Eckman said.
Reveille VII did not have that problem. "Tina Gardener did a
great job keeping Reveille slim and fit, even with her reduced
activity level in retirement," Eckman said.
"Consistent low-impact exercise such as walking and swimming
helps maintain good muscle mass as well as keeping your pet at an
ideal body weight," said Goodrich. "The more extra weight your pet
carries around, the higher the stress being placed across its
joints which may worsen the arthritis or affect your pet's quality
There are several signs for pet-owners to look for if they
suspect their animal is suffering from arthritis.
"The most obvious sign is decreased activity level, "said
Goodrich. "The animal may not want to go as far as it used to on a
walk or may not want to walk at all. Other signs can include
stiffness when rising, especially after sleeping, and varying
degrees of lameness." It is also important to have your animal
A veterinarian can take x-rays of the affected joints to
diagnose arthritis. However, x-ray images can't determine the
"Their signs on x-rays don't necessarily coordinate with their
physical findings," Eckman said. In other words, a lack of change
in the x-rays doesn't mean your pet's arthritis isn't getting
Although there is no cure for arthritis, there are a number of
treatments available to help your arthritic pet feel better. These
treatments vary depending on the severity of the case.
Early detection-before the disease has progressed too far-is
important to help maintain your pet's ability to walk, run, and
"There are several surgical and medical treatment options
available depending on which joint is affected," said Goodrich.
"Joint replacements are performed on a case-by-case basis.
Arthroscopy is also routinely used to evaluate and treat the joint
in a minimally invasive manner."
A veterinarian may give your dog steroid injections to help
relieve inflammation. Drugs, such as polysulfated glycosaminoglycan
injections, help protect cartilage with minimal side effects.
"Medical options include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,
of which there are several on the veterinary medical market," said
Eckman. "Most of them are actually formulated for osteoarthritis."
However, never give your pets human medications such as ibuprofen
or aspirin, as they can cause serious harm to your pet's stomach,
kidneys, and liver.
"When you use the drugs together, you can actually use less drug
overall because they complement each other," said Eckman.
Physical therapy, such as work on a water treadmill, is very
"Treatment for arthritis sometimes requires multiple types of
therapy," said Jacqueline Davidson, clinical professor at the CVM.
"Reveille was given several different types of oral medication for
pain and inflammation and received injections of a joint lubricant
and a steroid into several of the more severely affected joints.
She also received injections of a medication in the muscle to help
with joint pain and inflammation."
Reveille's diet was also controlled throughout her therapy to
make sure that she stayed at a lean body weight, and she took
several different dietary supplements for her joints, one of which
was an omega-3 fatty acid, to help reduce pain associated with
"Being overweight results in more stress on the joints because
they are supporting more weight," said Davidson. "In addition,
excess body fat promotes inflammation in the body and can worsen
the signs of arthritis."
Reveille came to the TAMU veterinary physical rehabilitation
service several times weekly. Her treatments included
electro-acupuncture and laser therapy for pain and she exercised
regularly in the underwater treadmill.
"Walking in water is helpful for arthritis because the buoyancy
of the water reduces stress on the joints, allowing for more
comfortable movement," said Davidson. "In addition, the water
provides some resistance, which helps promote leg strength."
The TAMU Small Animal Hospital also provides nonmedical
treatments to help with pain, such as dry needling, laser,
high-energy wave therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, electrical
stimulation, and electro-acupuncture.
A veterinarian can give recommendations for various dietary
supplements and a home exercise plan, as well as provide dietary
counseling to choose the most appropriate diet to maintain lean
body weight in your pet.
"There is no one right recipe for every dog," Eckman said. "You
have options, and you have to determine what works and what doesn't
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