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Osteoarthritis is a slowly evolving disorder of synovial joints characterised by deterioration of joint cartilage and the formation of new bone at the joint surfaces and margins.
What causes osteoarthritis?
The initiation of this process is still poorly understood, but current theories include either abnormal forces on normal cartilage ("secondary OA", for example joint instability or dislocation) or normal forces on abnormal cartilage ("primary OA", for example osteochondrosis). In dogs, osteoarthritis is usually secondary.
How common is osteoarthritis?
Between 8 and 20% of dogs suffer osteoarthritis and there are an estimated 6.5million dogs in the UK. It is harder to assess the incidence in cats as the signs are often missed and we don't really know how many are affected.
How will I know if my pet has osteoarthritis?
The presenting signs are usually fairly typical, with lameness, stiffness after rest, reduced activity and altered behaviour being most commonly reported. Physical findings, unsurprisingly, include lameness, muscle loss, joint thickening/effusion, restricted joint movement and joint pain.
As in humans, the type of pain is variable over time (e.g. aching, stabbing, burning, exercise-induced, inactivity stiffness) just as is its intensity. Definitive diagnosis is by veterinary examination, radiography and in select cases joint fluid analysis. Additional tests that may be required include joint inspection using arthroscopy (“key-hole surgery”), MRI, CT or nuclear medicine (“bone”) scans.
The extent of change on radiographs gives no indication of the level of discomfort – look at your pet not the radiographs!
Can osteoarthritis be cured?
Just like the condition in humans, the condition is irreversible and requires life-long management.
What are the options for treatment?
What is the prognosis for osteoarthritis?
Despite the fact that osteoarthritis is so common in the pet population and the unavoidable progression of this condition, the vast majority of dogs and cats are able to enjoy a good or excellent quality of life with appropriate management.
If you are concerned about the health of your pet you should contact your veterinary surgeon.
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