Degenerative Joint Disease (Chronic Arthritis)

Degenerative joint disease is more descriptive of the condition than the term chronic arthritis or osteoarthritis.  It is a gradual deterioration or degeneration of articular cartilage within joints. Our pets, like us, are living longer and over time, the “hinges” of the body – the joints – tend to become increasingly stiff and painful.

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 which covers the bones.  The articular cartilage does not have any blood supply of its own to provide nourishment and oxygen.  Small vessels from the underlying bone provide additional nourishment to the cartilage in addition to that it absorbs from the synovial fluid.
DJD can follow a number of joint diseases including infection and surgery.  It also follows overloading as happens with obese pets when normal movement can cause articular cartilage damage.  The smooth resilient cartilage degenerates and becomes brittle.  In some cases it can fragment and become detached within the joint.
Although DJD is said to be non-inflammatory, mild inflammation does then play a part.  The damaged cells of the cartilage release substances which result in inflammation, pain and also further damage to the cartilage.  Thus, once DJD starts it can become a vicious cycle.

Can the condition be cured?
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.
DJD has to be considered to be incurable but like sugar diabetes it can be controlled, allowing your pet to enjoy a happy, pain free life of good quality.

Control of DJD
Many dogs suffering from DJD are overweight.  It is therefore imperative that weight should be monitored and reduced if necessary.  If you have any difficulties or need help, please contact us.  Today there are many weight reducing diets available that do work providing feeding instructions are carefully followed.

Effective pain relief
Many of the early analgesics caused gastro-intestinal upsets.  Even today care has to be taken in the choice of the painkiller since some do upset individual dogs.  If you think the drugs we have prescribed do not suit your dog, please discontinue them and contact us.  Pain control often has to be organised on an individual basis.
Slowing destruction of cartilage and promoting repair
Drugs are now available which have been shown to be effective in controlling the destruction of cartilage in dogs with DJD.  They work by:

  • improving the blood supply within the joint
  • reducing the harmful enzymes that continue the destruction of cartilage within the joint once it has started
  • promoting fibrous tissue to heal the damaged areas
  • promoting  cartilage repair

These disease modifying drugs are available by injection e.g Cartrophen or can be given orally. We will be happy to discuss their use.

Diet supplements
There are certain products which are described as nutritional supplements (nutraceuticals)  rather than pharmaceuticals (drugs).  These compounds contain glycosaminoglycan and chrondroitin together with trace elements and vitamins.  There is increasing evidence available indicating that these products do help and they do not appear to cause side effects.
Changing your dog to special diets (e.g.Hill’s J/D) can help also.

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