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Canine Arthritis Awareness - No more lame excuses!


Canine Arthritis Awareness Month is up and running again this September, with the aim of heightening awareness of this important disease.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in dogs and people, affecting eight million people and 1.5 million dogs in the UK. In dogs, the condition goes largely unrecognised –with an estimated 500,000 receiving no treatment at all. All too often the signs – difficulty rising after a rest, slowness or difficulty climbing the stairs or getting into the car – are attributed to laziness, or the normal ageing process.

And this disease is progressive and painful. The condition is characterised by deterioration of the cartilage, resulting in inflamed joints. In severe cases the cartilage is completely worn away and tracks can be worn in the bone itself. Bone also starts to be laid down in other areas around the joint, effectively restricting mobility even more and resulting in the swollen, knobbly joints we associate with arthritis in people. For the majority of canine sufferers, a diagnosis of osteoarthritis signals a slow descent into gradually reducing mobility and increasing pain.

When the Canine Arthritis Awareness Campaign gets underway this September, it will be the third year the campaign has been running with veterinary practices across the country. This year participating practices are offering a FREE arthritis check for dogs and those where a new diagnosis of arthritis is made could also be receiving a £5 voucher against the cost of future medication, courtesy of sponsors Pfizer Animal Health.

What many dog keepers may not know is that there has been a great deal of progress in the understanding of how modern canine arthritis medications work, and just what they actually do.

One treatment for dogs has been hailed as an ‘arthritis super-drug’ after it was found that it did not only relieve pain and inflammation, but also stimulated regeneration of damaged cartilage, resulting in a slowing of the progression of cartilage loss in arthritic joints. This means that for the first time it is possible to impact on the disease, rather than just the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

This news has some interesting implications – the benefit of treating an animal at a very early stage in the disease are likely to be greater than originally thought and the use of medication as a long- term treatment, instead of just a tool to manage flare-ups, is also likely to become more widespread.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the treatment can also be given in a palatable tablet format – so day-in-day-out, dogs just take the tablet from their owner’s hands, as if it was a treat. No more wrestling with a stroppy spaniel that has his own views on the benefits of medicines, no more soggy tablets to scrape off the kennel floor.

Increasingly, dog owners are also being advised to give nutritional supplements to compliment prescribed arthritis medication – a practice that has long been in common usage by breeders and those in the know. While definitive proof that these supplements have a beneficial effect in helping to keep joints healthy is still lacking, the evidence is certainly mounting.

Nutradyl® is one example of a supplement made from green lipped mussel and containing Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulphate – the building blocks for cartilage. Importantly, this preparation is made using cold –pressed oils, those produced using heat treatment may be less useful, as the ingredients can be changed or even destroyed by intensive heat.

The level of support available when a dog is diagnosed with arthritis has also been enhanced. Enrolment onto a programme such as the Rimadyl® Extended Care Programme, offers dog owners a free exercise timer for their dog and a CD-rom that explains all about the condition. An owner’s handbook also contains important instructions on how exercise can be graded according to how the pet has been affected.

Dogs that are very painful and have just been diagnosed may have to be completely rested until the inflammation can be dampened down using medication. As recovery progresses, the intensity and duration of exercise can be cranked up again – so your vet may suggest that your pet starts on level 1 exercise (minimum, low impact activity with short lead walks) but ultimately progresses to level 5 (supervised exercise with off lead sessions but no dog-dog contact that might result in rapid turning or jumping).

In effect, more can, and is, being done for arthritic dogs than ever before – if only dog owners can be encouraged to bring their dogs forward for treatment at as early a stage as possible, they can receive the help they need. So, no more lame excuses – take your dog for a free arthritis check at a participating veterinary practice this September – it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away!

For more information log on to www.dogarthritischeck.com (Live from 1st September)

Susan McKay BVMS, MRCVS