One of the most common health concerns pet parents face is osteoarthritis, also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). As our pets age, we begin to notice changes in behavior that suggest they are slowing down. Some of the signs we begin to notice are that our dogs and cats have difficulty jumping up onto furniture or into the car, they are slower to get up from a laying position or you actually observe stiffness or lameness in their movements. This chronic discomfort can lead to a grumpy or disinterested attitude and even inhibit their enthusiasm for play time. Cats are especially difficult to diagnose because they are very good at hiding their pain. Cats are more likely to exhibit signs of DJD while grooming or by slowing down their usual activity. Look out for signs that your cat is not grooming as well as usual or having difficulty climbing in and out of the litter box.
Anatomy of the Joint
A joint is any place in the body where two bones come together to allow for motion. The ends of the bones are covered in a shock-absorbing cushion called cartilage and a membrane filled with lubricating fluid encapsulates most types of joints. Ligaments are the connective tissue outside of the joint that connect the bones to each other. The purpose of all of these cushioning tissues and fluid is to protect the bones at these delicate junctures. As animals & humans age, the cartilage can deteriorate and the fluid can thin. When that happens, we call it Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). As DJD progresses it can cause the joint to wear down, change shape, create bone spurs or even broken chips of bone / cartilage can get into the joint. All of these complications are very painful!
What causes Degenerative Joint Disease?
DJD is very common and can be brought on by a variety of causes so the root cause is not always well understood. Some breeds of animal (particularly large breeds such as German Shepherd dogs or Maine Coon cats) are predisposed to joint conditions because their heavy bones put a lot of stress on the joints. Exercise is important for pets’ physical and mental health, but abnormally high amounts of wear and tear can lead to injuries or deterioration of the cartilage. Some diseases such as diabetes or long term use of medications like steroids can increase likelihood of DJD.
What can I do if I think my pet has Degenerative Joint Disease?
If you start noticing changes in behavior mentioned above the best place to start is to see your veterinarian so they can assess the severity of the condition. Your vet will examine the joints, feel the range of motion and may even take some radiographs (x-rays) to look for changes in the joint shape.
Depending on the severity of the degradation, the vet could recommend a variety of options. Pets in a lot of pain may require anti-inflammatory drugs and extreme cases may even need surgery to reconstruct / replace parts of the joint or repair ligaments. But do not fear! Those are extreme cases!
Most cases can be caught early enough when less invasive (and less expensive!) options are available. The easiest thing you can do to help take care of your pets’ joints is to add a joint support nutraceutical to their daily routine. Hip and Joint is the largest category of natural supplements because joint disease is so prevalent in pets and because the symptoms are much more visible than other conditions such as with the heart or liver. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of natural products on the market to help support and maintain healthy joint function for pets.
How do Joint Nutraceuticals work?
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are a type of molecule that help make up cartilage and provide that cushioning / lubricating property. As with all tissues in the body, cartilage is continuously broken down, repaired, and rebuilt, but only if the components it needs are present. When taken orally, the body can use these nutrients as building blocks to keep cartilage healthy. Types of Glycosaminoglycans include hyaluronan, chondroitin, dermatan, heparin, and keratin. The most commonly used GAG oral supplements are chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. Doctors and scientists continue to debate whether or not oral joint support products actually allow the GAGs to get to the joint and make a difference or not. The data may still be inconclusive (we are talking about Animal Health Products – not drugs after all!), but the fact remains that thousands of people and pets around the world are getting great results from natural joint products. If a safe, natural product that will not harm your pet could significantly improve the quality of their life, why not give it a shot?