Mobility Matters: Nutritional Management of Canine Joint Disease

The disruption of normal joint mechanics may lead to or result from injury to the various components of a joint. Frequently, this injury results in osteoarthritis (OA),1which often leads to physical incapacity, pain and reduced quality of life for the affected pet. OA is the most common form of arthritis and is recognized in humans and in all veterinary species. It is often a slowly progressive condition characterized by two main pathologic processes: degeneration of articular cartilage with a loss of both proteoglycan and collagen, and proliferation of new bone. In addition, there is a variable, low-grade inflammatory response within the synovial membrane.2

 In North America, OA prevalence is reported to range from 20% in dogs older than 1 year up to 80% in dogs over age 8.3 The objectives of OA treatment are multifaceted: reduce pain and discomfort, decrease clinical signs, slow disease progression, promote repair of damaged tissue and improve quality of life.

 It has been suggested that the best results in dogs with chronic pain due to OA result from a combination of anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications, disease-modifying OA agents, specific nutrients, nutraceuticals, weight reduction, exercise programs, physical therapy and therapeutic diets. Applying an individualized combination of these management options to each patient will enhance quality of life, which is the ultimate goal of therapy.4

 Obesity as a risk factor

It is well recognized that obesity is epidemic in companion animals. In 2018, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese.5 In addition, a long-term study has documented that the prevalence of OA is greater in overweight/obese dogs compared with ideal weight dogs (83% vs. 50%).4,6 Given these data, it is reasonable to assume that a significant portion of arthritic dogs will be overweight/obese and vice versa. Managing these comorbid conditions presents a variety of challenges.

 As disease entities, OA and obesity present diagnostic challenges for very different reasons. Clinical signs of OA may not be obvious on examination, particularly early in the disease process. Although signs of pets being overweight or obese are readily apparent, these signs are often overlooked or dismissed as inconsequential. Diagnosis of OA generally requires a combination of history, physical examination findings and radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease. Although this seems straightforward, historical clues, which are vital to creating an index of suspicion, may be elusive and clinical signs are often subtle and not evident on routine veterinary examination. Owners may attribute many signs of OA to normal aging and therefore fail to report them unless prompted (see Stages of osteoarthritis).

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