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Degenerative Joint Disease

Some helpful information

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is also known as Chronic Arthritis or Osteoarthritis. It describes a process of gradual deterioration or degeneration of the articular cartilage within joints.

What is DJD?

Joints consist of a tough fibrous joint capsule which joins the bones forming the joint. This is lined with a thin membrane, the synovial membrane, which produces joint (synovial) fluid. This acts as a lubricant and also carries nourishment to the articular cartilage. The cartilage is smooth to aid the movement of the joints and also acts as a cushioning layer. If the articular cartilage is damaged, it exposes the underlying bone which can grate as the joint flexes, causing pain. As well as general wear and tear, the cartilage can be damaged by injuries such as a torn ligament and joint infections. There may also be congenital diseases, such as hip dysplasia, which cause abnormal joint wear. DJD can also follow on from surgery.

Managing DJD

Most of the damage caused by DJD is irreversible, but today we do have products available that can slow the progress of the disease and promote some cartilage healing. In addition, modern analgesics can effectively control pain without causing too many side effects. Here are some keys to effective management:

Control Weight
Obesity is a major contributor to DJD, so maintaining your dog at an optimum weight is one of the most important things you can do. We supply a range of diets to help you manage your pet’s weight and a free weight clinic with our veterinary nurses, where you can get regular check-ups and advice.

Provide Support for Joints
Nutritional supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine can make a big difference to the progression of DJD. We recommend Yumove, which contains an effective range of ingredients at a competitive price. An alternative is to feed a special diet such as Hills j/d diet, which has built-in nutritional supplements for joint disease.

Manage Your Pet’s Environment
Most pets with DJD are in their senior years, so make sure you provide them with extra care. Is the bed warm and away from draughts? Extra padding may help to keep your pet comfortable and exercise should be moderate. If your dog is keen to exercise, that’s fine, but if you notice that he or she is very stiff the next day, you will need to cut back a little. Dogs that do not want to move should be encouraged gently as movement helps to keep the limbs supple and reduce muscle wastage. Hydrotherapy or swimming can be beneficial for dogs with painful joints. Remember that dogs with DJD may be less confident on slippery floors. As dogs get less mobile, it may help to provide ramps to help them cope with steps or to get into the car.

Pain Relief
Pain relief is the cornerstone of managing DJD. The vet will normally prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help keep your dog mobile and pain-free. There are a number of important points to bear in mind with these drugs:

  • NSAIDs should be used with care in patients that are dehydrated or suffering with heart, liver or kidney disease. The vet will normally check for these illnesses as part of your initial clinical assessment and may recommend blood tests to check for any problems before commencing treatment. You should contact the vet if your pet’s health changes, for example if he or she becomes inappetant or starts drinking more.
  • A small number of dogs may show a reaction to the medication, usually in the form of an upset stomach. If this happens, stop the medication immediately and phone for advice. The vet may recommend an alternative.
  • Some individuals respond better to one drug than another. So if the initial response is disappointing, it may be worth trying other medication. Often dogs will be given NSAIDs long-term. Pets that are on prescription medication will need to have a check-up at least once every six months. In between check-ups, you can obtain further supplies of medication from the surgery by giving at least 48 hours’ notice.

Other Treatments
Disease modifying drugs are also available for DJD. They help to control pain and protect and support the recovery of the joint cartilage damaged by the arthritic process. The vet may recommend this as an alternative to NSAIDs. It is given as a course of 4 injections at weekly intervals, and if there is a good response, the course is usually repeated every 6 months.

Acupuncture can be very effective at controlling pain in some individuals. If you would like to try this alternative treatment for your pet, please ask for details at reception.