Posts Tagged ‘Rehab & Arthritis’

Canine Arthritis

Monday, May 5th, 2014


Arthritis. At one point in time, we have heard that word either for ourselves or for our four legged companions. This condition can be seen in any joint from head to tip of the tail. But what exactly does that word mean? In studying many definitions for arthritis, the consensus is that it is inflammation of a joint, loss of joint cartilage, and bony changes that result from the first two situations.

In simple terms, arthritis can occur for many reasons. Some arthritis originates from infections the companion has contracted. Some arthritis occurs because of an autoimmune situation. The most common form of arthritis noted in our 4 legged companions is osteoarthritis. This particular type of arthritis slowly occurs over time, and is related to instability in a joint whether from an injury, congenital situation (like hip dysplasia) or a repetitive motion on a joint.

So as guardians, what do we see with arthritis? A common story is that your companion is having trouble rising after lying down for a period of time, is slower to go up or down the stairs, cannot walk as far as before, and will whine, groan, or vocalize more often. Some guardians report an increase in panting- a sign of pain in companions. There is often a loss of muscle associated with arthritis. This complicates things because as stated before, arthritis occurs because of instability within a joint. Muscles, ligaments, and the joint capsule, along with gravity, are the main stabilizers of a joint. The more muscle loss, the more difficult it is for a companion’s body to keep a joint stable and the more stress on other tissues.

If a companion has arthritis, cannot walk as far as before, is having trouble moving and transitioning in everyday life, and appears to be losing muscles mass, what can be done to break that cycle? It is amazing what you can do with your companion to help make them more comfortable, more stable, and stronger.

First things first- you need to have your companion assessed. This involves a thorough physical examination, gait, joint and muscle evaluation, and possibly other diagnostics (like radiographs or blood work) if indicated. At this time, a pain assessment will be done. If your companion is painful, medications will be recommended to help with the inflammation and pain. It is important to know that if the inflammation and pain is not under control, you may increase their pain response in the long term. Pain is a tricky situation. If the pain becomes chronic, there are changes to nerves that occur not only at the site of the pain, but that can also occur in the brain. This can ultimately cause a companion to perceive more pain than is present or pain when there is no pain stimulation. Aggressive pain control and inflammatory control helps to prevent this from happening. Icing and heat therapy, when applied correctly, have been known to help with inflammation, swelling, joint effusion, and pain. Joint supplementation has been very controversial in human medicine, but increasing the joint fluid within a joint and its ability to provide nutrition to joint cartilage can be a benefit from supplementation. Ask your veterinarian or rehabilitation therapist about what may be right for your companion.

Next, we need to help the joints and the soft tissues move better. This can be done by gentle range of motion of an arthritic joint. This allows for increased movement of joint fluid- fluid that bathes the joint cartilage and provides nutritional support. This also gently stretches the capsule and ligaments around the joint. Massage of the affected muscles can also help to increase muscle activity and awareness as well as decrease tightness and pain. Gentle stretches are also able to help arthritic patients increase flexibility of the affected area. In some cases, short, frequent walks on surfaces that are compressive (dirt, grass) can help to activate the joint and it’s receptors (muscles/ligaments) that help support the joint, and increase brain and nervous activity. All of these things help to improve an arthritic companion.

Lifestyle modification is another way to help an arthritic companion. Ramps instead of stairs are less stressful on arthritic joints. Rugs can be placed in common pathways or areas that your companion resides to prevent slipping or make it easier for an arthritic companion to rise from the floor. A decrease in running, jumping, and rough play can help prevent painful situations where the companion has over exercised and inflamed the arthritic joint(s).

So how can this be fun for the whole family? Getting together to go on a walk can be fun. Massage, passive range of motion and stretching can be a very one-on-one bonding time with that companion and the family. Not to be left out, other non-arthritic companions can get a massage too! There are also trick classes, nose work classes, and some obedience classes that can be done by arthritic patients to help keep their mind engaged. All of these classes are ways the family can be involved together, and the arthritic companion does not get left at home by themselves, and instead continues to be an active and integral part of the family.

Although arthritis may change your life with your companion, there are many things that can help improve and maintain a good, engaging life and relationship for you and your companion.