Osteoarthritis, also known as OA, degenerative joint disease (DJD) or simply arthritis, is a degenerative condition affecting the cartilage surfaces that line the ends of the bones as they articulate in the joints of the body. Predisposing factors for the development of OA in dogs are orthopedic conditions of growing dogs known as OCD (osteochiondritis dissecans) and forms of dysplasia, trauma (such as fractures, especially those involving the joints), conformational abnormalities (such as angular limb deformities or as in chondrodystrophic breeds, like Dachshunds), or simply being of a large or giant breed of dog.
OCD is a condition where the cartilage model we all start off as does not progress properly when turning into bones; it is a failure of the process known as endochondral ossification. Dysplasia means “abnormal growth or development of”, and in dogs we commonly see dysplasia of both elbows and hips. When joints develop abnormally, this leads to abnormal motion within the joints, causing abnormal wear of the cartilage surfaces lining the joints. Abnormal wear of cartilage surfaces is the defining event that gives one OA for the rest of their life. Similarly, trauma and conformational (shape) abnormalities in some dogs leads to abnormal joint motion and, therefore, OA development. It is believed the excess weight and muscular forces applied across their joints causes excessive wear and tear and leads to more frequent diagnoses of OA than in smaller, lighter breeds.
OA is, by definition, a progressive condition, which means it ALWAYS gets worse with time. No one in veterinary or human orthopedics can completely stop OA’s progression, nor can they effectively reverse the changes that are present. This is why it is so important to do what we can for our pets in limiting the rate at which their OA progresses. With the right mixture of weight management, exercise modification, pharmaceutical & nutraceutical (nutritional supplement) therapies, we can greatly abate the rate at which OA progresses in our furry loved ones. Overweight dogs, similar to large & giant breeds, put excessive amounts of weight across the joints and can exacerbate the progression of OA. Exercise in patients with OA has to be altered to limit explosive activities, avoid concussive forces across the affected joints (eg, dogs with hind limb OA should not perform vertical jumping, as with catching Frisbees or jumping up for a treat held above the dog’s head), and to strive for more frequent, shorter bouts of exercise as opposed to fewer, longer bouts. Medicinally, two main modes of therapy are available: the first is NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) therapy, such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx (these are similar to aspirin-like drugs but are much safer to administer to dogs) and the second is injections of hyaluronic acid in a product called Adequan (typical course is 2 injections per week over 4 weeks; clients are often taught how to administer the subcutaneous, or under the skin, injections by our medical staff at Greenbriar & perform the final 7 injections at home for cost-effectiveness). Probably the most important component of conservative medical management for OA in dogs is nutraceutical therapy. Because these are not food and they are not pharmaceuticals, DEA & FDA regulation is extremely limited and many manufacturers of these products have little to none of the important ingredients in their formulations. This is why at Greenbriar Veterinary Hospital we ONLY carry Nutramax brand nutraceuticals. Nutramax makes veterinary as well as human nutraceuticals and they have independent laboratory analysis guaranteeing 100% of what is on their labels is in their products. For OA management, the two Nutramax brand nutraceuticals I very highly recommend are Welactin and Dasuquin. Welactin is their brand of fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acids. Not only do these substances afford excellent chondroprotection (protects joint cartilage from the damaging effects of OA), but they also prevent allergies in about two-thirds of patients, minimize the risk for certain types of cancer, boost immune system function, help to prevent many types of dermatopathies, give dogs a glossy hair coat & usually increase the palatability of food. Dasuquin is a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and soy & avocado extracts that has four protective effects for joints. First, the former two ingredients are the constituents of joint cartilage so they help to bathe the cartilage in the substances it needs to repair itself. Second, they help to minimize cartilage degradation that place within the joint. Third, they have mild anti-inflammatory activity. And, fourth, they have powerful oxygen free-radical scavenging, or anti-oxidant, properties. And these two products are synergistic when combined and given together- in other words, 2 + 2 = 10, not 4 (you get a greater combined effect than you would if you added up the effects of either given alone). So if your older pet is seeming a bit slow or stiff upon rising or after sleep, he or she may have OA and their quality of life may be greatly enhanced by having one of our doctors at Greenbriar examine them & possibly prescribe the aforementioned therapies.
Contributed by Hooman Pooya, DVM, Chief of Surgery