VET’S DIARY: Pointing the finger of blame for osteoarthritis

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IT has been estimated that approximately 70 per cent of dogs over the age of six years are suffering from inflammatory changes to their joints, a process that comes under the broad term of osteoarthritis, writes Dominic Plumley.

Of course, not all of these animals will be showing overt signs of pain in the form of lameness, for example, but the changes are there and their consequences can be very significant as the dog gets older.

What is osteoarthritis?

The old song – Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones – says it all .

The ankle bone is connected to the shin bone etc. resulting in a completed skeleton of long and short bones connected by joints.

Where these bones articulate, the touching surfaces concerned are lined with soft, smooth and spongy cartilage that acts very much like a shock absorber.

The bones are joined by complicated arrangements of ligaments that ensure that movement can only occur in the way intended and the whole systems is enclosed by a capsule filled with joint fluid to lubricate that motion.

Disruption to any part of this precise system; confirmation abnormalities, ligament damage or over use for example will result in damage to tissues and trigger an inflammatory reaction.

Initially, this takes the form of swelling, which both immobilises the joint and makes it painful, encouraging the sufferer to rest and allow repair.

Over time, if not relieved, this inflammatory cycle starts to cause permanent changes to the joint, the capsule becoming thickened, the delicate cartilage surfaces eroding and ultimately deposition of new bone to restrict joint movement.

Once started these changes are self perpetuating and relatively minor initial triggers can result in very serious change.

So why do so many dogs suffer from osteoarthritis?

Well, unfortunately, we humans are pretty much entirely to blame.

In the first instance, thousands of years of careful selection has enabled us to have quite literally hundreds of different breeds of dog, of just about any shape or size imaginable.

These breeds have been selected for a whole variety of traits including fashionable looks, intelligence, strength and speed.

It goes without saying that the very first domesticated dogs will have come from wolves that lived in close proximity to human groups.

These animals were both athletic but also relatively short-lived – wild wolves usually living less than 10 years.

From these beginnings we have managed to produce chihuahuas weighing in at barely a pound, giant mastiffs at 14 stones and everything in between.

The bi-product of much of this selection has been in many cases to produce skeletons that aren’t really up to the job asked of them.

These skeletal deficiencies have been exacerbated by longer life expectancies. Generally the larger, giant breeds are shorter lived – lucky to make it into double figures – whereas the smaller breeds can frequently get into the teens, increasing the potential for wear and tear.

On top of these genetic factors, we don’t help our pets in the way that we keep them.

Just as with humans, obesity is a huge problem, with the extra weight carried contributing enormously to premature wearing of joints.

Couple this with inappropriate exercise – too much can be just as bad as not enough – and you can soon see where the blame lies for all of this disease in our pets.

Thankfully, there are things that we can do to help.

What is more this doesn’t necessarily mean putting all pets on medicines for life.

The first thing is to understand the disease and how it can be avoided.

To this end we are giving a presentation at Alnwick Rugby Club on Thursday, September 29, entitled Osteoarthritis - Are you doing everything for your dog?

If this interests you visit our website for more details and give the surgery a call on 01665 602516 to book your place – first come first serve.

It will be relevant to all dog owners, whether they have just acquired a new pup or have an elderly dog already diagnosed with the disease.