What are the options for treatment?
1) Weight loss
Weight loss is beneficial in reducing the degree of discomfort and also the rate of deterioration of the joint. This should be the first consideration. Strict dietary management is very important. This measure alone may be effective.
Exercise is important in maintaining muscle strength and fitness as well as in the control of body weight. As a general rule, exercise should be “little and often”, typically three lead walks daily. The duration and intensity of exercise will depend on the severity and stage of OA. Low impact exercise and hydrotherapy (for dogs!) is beneficial in strengthening supporting muscles. If muscles are not allowed to stretch they may become contracted, and this contributes to the discomfort and lack of joint support on weight-bearing. At Davies we offer hydrotherapy services, contact us to find out more.
3) Pain control
Nutritional supplementation with products such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate, “green lipped muscle extract” may provide relief in some animals. There are many such supplements marketed for the treatment of osteoarthritis in humans and their use is becoming more common in dogs and cats. Despite the manufacturers’ claims there is, in fact, little hard evidence to support their use. Anti-inflammatory medication will help, but dogs and especially cats are very sensitive to these medicines and only those prescribed by a vet should be used. Warm and cold compresses often help, either to warm up a stiff joint (e.g. for inactivity stiffness) or to suppress inflammation after exercise (cold). Deep, soft bedding should be provided.
There are some situations where there is an effective surgical treatment for the “primary” cause (e.g. cranial cruciate ligament rupture). In cases of severe pain that is not responsive to 1-3 above then options such as joint replacement (hip and elbow) or joint fusion (for example the carpus, hock or shoulder) might be considered. Arthroscopic treatment may provide some relief in a small number of cases (for example elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans).
Regular re-evaluation is helpful to monitor and adjust the management of this condition.