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Help Pets Cope With Arthritis
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Not just a human affliction, arthritis often strikes the four-legged members of society as well.
Horses and dogs are the most common victims of arthritis in animals. Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease caused by injuries, growth or hereditary problems, and loose joints.
Dr. Todd Tobias, a small animal orthopedic surgeon at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said symptoms in horses and dogs are similar to those suffered by humans. But measures can be taken to ease suffering and sometimes reverse the condition. Treatments are tested on animals, leading to arthritis relief for generations of humans and their pets.
"The impetus to find a solution for arthritis in humans has resulted in a tremendous amount of research, and most of that research has been done in animals," Tobias said.
Joint replacement has become common in hip arthritis cases.
"Using research animals for joint replacements has been a necessity, but because of that, the hundreds of thousands of people each year that undergo hip replacement have been walking more comfortably," Tobias said.
Today, technology such as this helps both humans and animal patients suffering from arthritis.
Dr. Ann Rashmir-Raven, an equine surgeon at MSU, said horses can get arthritis in any joint. Progress has been made in treating arthritis, but it remains the leading cause for horses not being able to perform as intended.
"We've made tremendous strides in treating the horse," Rashmir said. "Many good drugs and surgery techniques have been developed for treating arthritis.
"Arthritis can still be limiting, but with mild to moderate cases, and even some severe cases, there's a lot we can do to keep the horse active for many more years."
Rashmir said horses most commonly get arthritis in their front legs, but hind leg and necks can also be affected. Arthritis is possible in shoulders and elbows, but uncommon.
Rashmir said typical symptoms of arthritis in horses are limping, especially after strenuous exercise; stiffness before warming up; declined performance; and attitude changes, such as reluctance to work or grouchiness.
"If a horse experiences these things for more than just a few days, it could be worthwhile to have the horse checked," Rashmir said.
Veterinarians often test for arthritis in horses by using nerve blocking. This procedure uses shots to anesthetize portions of the leg, starting with the heel and moving up. When the horse no longer limps, the arthritis has been localized.
Using ultrasound, X-rays or fluid samples, veterinarians determine the extent of problem, and treatment follows with drugs or surgery. Drugs reduce inflammation, relieve pain and can rejuvenate the joint. Surgery can fuse or clean problem joints.
Arthritis also strikes dogs, Tobias said, most frequently from hip dysplasia, or looseness in the hip joint.
"As is true in any joint with abnormal looseness, it will get arthritis," he said. "If detected early enough in puppies, surgery can tighten hip joints and possibly prevent arthritis."
Tobias said dogs' knees often suffer from arthritis, usually caused by an athletic injury to the knee's cruciate ligaments. Elbows and spines also are prone to arthritis.
Dogs with arthritis exhibit many signs similar to those exhibited by humans with arthritis. These include mild limping; good days and bad days; problems with cold, wet weather; slowness getting up or down; and hesitation to jump or climb stairs.
To diagnose arthritis in dogs, a veterinarian moves and feels the joint. X-rays show if the bone itself has changed.
Tobias said that while surgery and medicine can treat some symptoms, there is no cure for arthritis.
"But there are ways to potentially prevent it in certain conditions, and there is medical therapy to help the animal feel better and slow the progression of the arthritis."