Osteoarthritis is a painful, inflammatory joint disease that can significantly decrease your pet’s quality of life. If your furry friend suffers from osteoarthritis, you aren’t alone. Millions of pets head to their veterinarians each year because they are showing signs associated with this degenerative joint disease. Bailey the Labrador retriever is an example of a typical osteoarthritis patient. Read on for the story of his initial visit to one of our hospitals at Angels Camp Veterinary Group for evaluation, and his disease progression. 

Arthritis in pets—the signs

Bailey, an 8-year-old Labrador, was a happy dog who was relatively active with his owner. They’d head out for morning walks each day, to the dog park a couple of times per week, and occasionally to the store. Bailey was always happy to accompany his owner, but then he began showing subtle signs of discomfort, and his owner became concerned. Bailey became slightly hesitant to jump into the car, and had lost some spring in his step toward the end of their daily walk. While Bailey would still run and play with other dogs at the park, he was having a hard time keeping up, and seemed sore the next day. Rather than attributing these signs to “old age,” Bailey’s owner took the initiative to get him help from one of our veterinary teams within Angels Camp Veterinary Group.

  • Take home points: Osteoarthritis signs aren’t always obvious in pets. Owners must be attentive to slight changes in their pet’s behavior, gait, and appetite. These signs do not always indicate arthritis, but reporting such changes to your veterinarian is important. 

Arthritis in pets—the examination

During Bailey’s physical examination, the veterinarian noticed some changes involving the hind limbs, including decreased muscle tone and some crackling (i.e., crepitus) when flexing and extending the hips. Bailey also had decreased range of motion in these joints, indicating a problem. His veterinarian recommended hip X-rays to further evaluate the area. The images showed changes consistent with osteoarthritis, including new bone formation, and also suggested that Bailey may have an underlying condition known as hip dysplasia, which was likely contributing to the arthritis development. The veterinarian recommended baseline laboratory tests, including blood work and a urinalysis, to evaluate Bailey’s internal functioning before recommending a treatment plan. 

  • Take home points: Diagnostics like a physical examination, imaging, and laboratory tests are essential in diagnosing and assessing osteoarthritis in pets. Each tool helps the veterinarian gauge disease severity, and allows them to prepare an appropriate, individualized treatment plan. Without diagnostics, veterinarians can only guess the cause of your pet’s signs, which means they may not receive the care they need. 

Arthritis in pets—the diagnosis and treatment plan

The veterinarian noted from the lab results that Bailey had slight elevations in certain liver enzymes. This was an important finding, since many preferred osteoarthritis medications are metabolized by the liver, which could have been a problem for Bailey. But, thanks to this information, and the changes seen on Bailey’s X-rays, the veterinarian recommended a specific anti-inflammatory drug, acupuncture, and a combination of supplements to support the joints. Exercises like walking and swimming were encouraged, along with using ramps to get into and out of the car, or to climb stairs, or onto the couch. The veterinarian referred Bailey’s owner to a canine physical rehabilitation center for underwater exercises, and to a veterinary internist to further evaluate the liver enzyme changes. 

  • Take home points: Your veterinarian is an essential resource. Bailey’s owner had no way of knowing about his liver value elevation, but with that knowledge, Bailey’s veterinarian knew the appropriate medications, and that the dog needed a referral for his condition. Successful arthritis treatment plans rarely include only medication. Multimodal plans including medication, rehabilitation therapy, and other adjunct treatments typically provide the most benefit. The veterinarian’s thorough work-up and treatment plan put Bailey on the path to healing before the owner knew his dog had a problem. 

Arthritis in pets—the progress check-up

At Bailey’s follow-up appointment, the owner reported that Bailey appeared more comfortable on walks, was enjoying his swimming lessons and acupuncture sessions, and seemed to be in improved spirits. Bailey suffered some gastrointestinal side effects after beginning his medication, but the veterinary internist was working on a solution.

  • Take home points: Re-check appointments are crucial for assessing your pet’s response to an osteoarthritis treatment plan. Given how this condition generally worsens over time, frequent check-ins to evaluate patient comfort and progress are essential in ensuring your pet maintains a good quality of life. 

At Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital and Mother Lode Veterinary Hospital, we know that arthritis can be debilitating for our patients, and concerning for their owners. That’s why we are dedicated to helping your furry friends find the relief and care they need after their diagnosis. If your pet suffers from arthritis, or you believe your pet may be in pain, contact us at Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital or Mother Lode Veterinary Hospital to schedule an appointment.