Animal Medical Care Joint Health

As a veterinarian in general practice, every single day we see patients with disease within their joints that causes some degree of pain and or compromise. It is important that our clients understand that in most cases both clinicians and owners can help provide relief for their pet's joint pain. But first we need to understand the underlying issues.

Joints in our pets that typically are involved with the most disease are defined as diarthrodal joints. This means that multiple parts within the joint are covered with hyaline cartilage and surrounded by hyaluronic acid (joint fluid). Cartilage and hyaluronic acid is what allows for the joints to move or articulate without friction. Ligaments within joints hold the bones in correct alignment thereby the cartilage isn't damaged. Once the ligaments and or cartilage is damaged by either trauma or other disease process it starts a nasty cycle of progressive future damage if left untreated.

The cartilage within joints is composed of chondrocytes and a matrix. Chondrocytes are cells the body uses to make cartilage. The matrix is made up of 70% water, 20% collagen and 10% proteoglycan. The matrix functions to resist compression forces. Cartilage integrity depends upon healthy matrix and efficient chondrocytes. Trauma to the cartilage causes loss of chondrocytes and unbalanced matrix. Unbalanced matrix leads to further cartilage damage and without the chondrocytes the cartilage never heals. The joint then become inflamed and starts the inflammatory cycle over of cartilage damage. This causes osteoarthritis and leads to degenerative joint disease.....and lifelong pain.

As a clinician we want to treat joint disease as quick as possible as to alleviate permanent damage and pain long term...but the fight starts by decreasing factors involved in the injury initially. First off, weight control is a very important. Limiting your pet's obesity can decrease the overall possibility of joint pain and injury by 50% in most cases. Another method to limit progression of osteoarthritis is to seek out veterinary advise upon initial injury. Anti-inflammatory medications or NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) are utilized not only for pain but also to decrease the inflammation from causing further damage. If your patient has experienced a ligament injury, it is important to either rest the ligament until it heals and achieves appropriate stability within the joint, or seek surgical repair for complete rupture. Decreased initial factors that lead to joint disease and seeking appropriate care for injury once it occurs is important for long term joint health.

To protect recently damaged joints it is appropriate to also consider chondroprotectives. Without getting into too much detail, products such as glucosamine, chondroitin, polysulfated aminoglycans, ascorbic acid, manganese and various other remedies all have shown clinical success at slowing progression of osteoarthritis and even healing damaged cartilage. These active ingredients can be found in various formulations but it is important to ask your veterinarian about what products work and at what does for your patient. These products are not going to cure your pet's arthritis but can be utilized to help aid in the healing.

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