Osteoarthritis is a progressively painful disease characterized by articular cartilage degradation with loss of proteoglycan and collagen, subchondral bone sclerosis, periarticular proliferation of new bone, and chronic inflammation of synovial membranes.1 Osteoarthritis is estimated to affect approximately 20% of dogs ≥ 1 year of age and 90% of dogs > 5 years of age.2–5 Cats are similarly affected by osteoarthritis, with prevalences ranging from 16.5% to 91% and increasing with age.6–9 Given the high prevalences reported, it is possible that companion animals may have undiagnosed osteoarthritis and the associated pain that goes unnoticed. Cats in particular may not show clinical signs typically associated with osteoarthritis, and even subtle changes in a cat's behavior at home may be caused by osteoarthritis-associated pain. Veterinarians should closely evaluate patients' joints at every annual examination and discuss signs of osteoarthritis and pain with clients. To prevent disease progression as early as possible, discussions about osteoarthritis should take place for patients as young as 1 year of age. Careful evaluation and client education are essential to identifying osteoarthritis in its earliest stages.
Clinical signs of osteoarthritis include evidence of pain or tenderness, decreased range of motion, swelling, stiffness, muscle atrophy, crepitus, and effusion. The presence of pain can cause an animal's behavior to change, leading to aggression or decreased activity, in addition to signs such as limping and difficulty rising, climbing stairs, or getting onto furniture.10 Painful disease makes it difficult for pets to interact with people, which strains the human-animal bond and can damage the relationship with the owner. Because of osteoarthritis-related pain, pets may have trouble walking around the home. They may avoid hardwood, tile, or other slippery surfaces. Owners who notice their pet struggling may add rugs or carpets to these surfaces to support the pet's mobility. The effects of osteoarthritis can be debilitating, especially when owners are not aware of the necessary accommodations. Whereas it has been shown that osteoarthritis may lead to earlier euthanasia, veterinarians can improve a patient's quality of life and potentially extend its longevity through greater preventative care and multimodal management approaches.11
Osteoarthritis is a long-term disease, and its management in pets is challenging for veterinarians and pet owners. Treatment can be costly and frustrating. It takes patience and persistence to identify the most appropriate combination of interventions that may be used for the remainder of a pet's life. Options include medications such as NSAIDs and opioids, nutraceuticals, physical rehabilitation, weight loss, and complete and balanced therapeutic diets. Nutritional intervention, especially control of caloric intake, has been shown to be an environmental factor that veterinarians and owners can use to delay or control osteoarthritis in pets.12 Veterinarians and owners should discuss nutrition and healthy body condition, including the use of therapeutic diets, as part of a pet's overall health and well-being. Pain caused by osteoarthritis may be controlled with medications; these provide a temporary solution, as they decrease signs of pain but do not treat underlying problems within joints or modify disease progression.13 Nutritional management, including the feeding of therapeutic diets formulated for joint health, dietary supplementation with selected nutraceuticals, and facilitation of weight loss when needed, may help to prevent or slow the progression of osteoarthritis.3,4,11,13–23
Body condition score
No third-party funding or support was received in connection with the writing and publication of this manuscript. The authors declare that there were no conflicts of interest.
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