Osteoarthritis affects a whooping 20% of the dog population over one year old and is most often secondary to a trauma (such as a fracture effecting the joint), deformed cartilage (genetics are normally to blame here! Dogs that are bred with dwarfism have changes to the make-up of their cartilage); and joint dysplasia.
So, what is it? Osteoarthritis is disease of the joints characterised by degenerate articular cartilage. In an arthritic joint there is a reduction in the joint space between the ends of the bones; the cartilage becomes less congruent increasing the friction within the joint during movement and over time boney changes occur with boney spurs that grow into the joint (a little like if you imagine stalagmites and stalagtites in a cave).
Clinically the symptoms we see in dogs (and humans) with osteoarthritis are pain, stiffness, a reduction in exercise tolerance, lameness (an asymmetry in movement) and disability (a reduction in function). Pain is the main clinical sign to negatively impact on a dog’s quality of life, daily functioning and mobility. The discomfort experienced can be acute in times of an exacerbation (flare up), but is mainly a chronic pain, often described as a dull, nagging discomfort.
Your vet will initially use medication in symptom modification and pain relief. They will also lead on weight management/loss and make appropriate onward referrals. Due to the Veterinary Surgeon’s Act (1966) your vet must provide consent prior to commencing Physiotherapy, or any therapy.
Physiotherapy is an allied health profession aimed at restoring movement and function in injury, illness or disability. Physiotherapists prescribe specific exercises in the clinical management of your dog which are individualised and reasoned following a thorough musculoskeletal assessment. Exercise can be prescribed in combination with hands on therapy, massage and electrotherapy in optimising your dog’s comfort. Appropriate exercise can be advised in conjunction with weight management or weight loss interventions. Physiotherapists are perfectly placed to advise on home adaptations which will enable your dog to maximise their quality of life in being able fulfil their role within the family by maintaining their optimal mobility. We can also discuss with you some behavioural management techniques to ensure your dog is receiving mental stimulation and enrichment, even if you cannot provide them the same amount of exercise in managing their symptoms effectively.
Both land and water therapy can be referred for by your veterinarian, with canine hydrotherapy incorporating either swimming or the under-water treadmill – both of which have their benefits but must be reasoned for your specific case depending on the aims of treatment. Physiotherapists and Hydrotherapists work collaboratively in managing clinical symptoms and aiming towards personalised goals that are realistic for your dog.
Overall, research shows that exercise therapy is effective in the management of osteoarthritis when appropriately reasoned and targeted exercise is prescribed. Gold standard healthcare is becoming more widely available to our beloved pooches and a multi-disciplinary team approach including your Vet, Vet Nurses, Physiotherapists and Hydrotherapists should be considered in encouraging and optimising your dog’s quality of life.