Have you noticed Max the German Sheppard moving slower than normal and not getting as exciting about that game of Frisbee? Has Samantha the Siamese unable to leap to that sunny windowsill with the suppleness she has exhibited in the past? These and many more examples of stiff joints in pets could be an indication of degenerative joint disease in pets or osteoarthritis.
Degenerative joint disease in pets is caused by wear and tear over time accompanied by an erosion of the cartilage. As the cartilage flakes and crakes, the joint loses the shock absorber that allows it to function effectively. As cartilage disappears the bones lose their smooth lubricated action and eventually the bone will become flattened, thickened, eroded, and distorted. Extra bone tissue develops at the joint margins (sometimes jagged). Stiff joints in pets can be a quality of life altering condition that generally is noticed in middle age or older pets.
Common indications of osteoarthritis in pets are lethargy, lameness, swelling in the joint area, muscle loss, and thickening and scarring of the joint membrane. If the condition is allowed to continue or has gone unnoticed for a long period of time the affected joint/joints will make a grating sound. This is the rubbing sound of bone on bone. Your veterinarian will likely want to take an X-ray to confirm the condition.
As a loving pet owner you now are likely wonder what, if anything, can be done both to ease the symptoms and reverse the condition.
Let's discuss a few ideas.
*Weight loss - Degenerative joint disease is most commonly found in weight bearing joints. It is also more common in larger breeds. Weight reduction may also be an important component in successful treatment and should be one of the first steps taken.
*Exercise - Stiff joints reduces the activity level of most pets. This loss of activity may lead to muscle loss and even stiffer less mobile joints. Exercise conducted on soft surfaces or hydrotherapy are both very good options.
*Warm compresses - Using a warm compress or water bottle will make your pet more comfortable and loosen up those stiff joints. Keeping their bed warm, especially in the winter months, is commonly recommended and will make it easier for them to move around; especially early in the morning or late at night.
*Medications - Most medications work to treat pain and inflammation and carry the risk of side effects, especially for long term use. You should not completely dismiss this area of treatment. Prescription medication treatment for stiff joints is best discussed with your veterinary doctor.
*Nutrition and Supplementation - There is good evidence to support the effectiveness of supplementation in treating stiff joints in pets. The supplements that are generally considered to be the most effective contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and an array of vitamins and minerals. Glucosamine and chondroitin are known to be involved in the synthesis and repair of joint cartilage.
In summary, recognizing and treating stiff joints in pet's early can improve your beloved furry friend's chances of recapturing their past quality of life. Your veterinarian may be able to give your pet an analgesic or corticosteroid to relieve and improve joint function but keep in mind this is only a temporary fix. As discussed above a more long lasting solution would be the use of supplements specifically formulated for joint stiffness and joint health. This type of treatment approach to stiff joints can prove helpful in halting and reversing degenerative joint disease in pets and is a safe and effective treatment option worth considering.