can arthritis be prevented?
Until recently, arthritis was associated with older dogs and thought to just be an inevitable part of ageing. However, arthritis is commonly due to developmental disease, trauma or abnormal forces. The condition is progressive, leading to lifelong management for the owner, which can be costly and emotionally draining.
Developmental joint disease leads to abnormal joint configuration early in the dog’s life. It is often genetic.
Examples of developmental joint disease include:
- Elbow and hip dysplasia (where the joint structures are the incorrect shape and therefore not a perfect fit, which causes abnormal wear and tear on the joint)
- Cruciate disease (where the ligaments inside the knee become damaged and fail to stabilise the knee joint)
- Patella luxation (instability of the knee cap allowing it to track abnormally within the knee joint)
- Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) an inflammatory condition that occurs when the diseased cartilage partially or fully separates from the underlying bone.
Healthcare schemes exist to screen dogs for developmental joint disease such as hip and elbow dysplasia in the hope that they will not pass on the underlying genes to their offspring. It is hoped that ultimately selective breeding from dogs with good joints, and therefore good genes, can eradicate developmental joint diseases. However, this is a slow, laborious and incomplete process. Supporting the schemes through purchasing low risk breed puppies from reputable breeders that utilise these phenotyping processes is certainly a way towards minimising arthritis.
Trauma to the joint can be either due to surgery or due to damage incurred due to accidents.
Abnormal forces that a joint must contend with which may influence the development of arthritis include:
- Repetitive actions which cause sudden acceleration/deceleration and twisting (such as ball throwing)
- Excess weight (this includes “puppy fat”)
- The environment that dogs live in, including early access to slippery floors and stairs, jumping onto/off furniture and into/out of cars
Identifying clinical signs of joint disease early, and diagnosing plus acting on musculoskeletal and joint problems will contribute to minimising the development of clinical arthritis. It will also offer more treatment options, and more time for you to influence the course of the disease.