Are there any new and promising treatments down the road for this condition?
McLaughlin: Yes, some newer NSAIDs are in the pipeline, and some are very effective and have fewer side effects than current options.
Also, we're seeing some newer rehabilitation techniques and even gene therapy that look promising. And in the surgical field,
some cartilage replacement and resurfacing techniques have shown early promise.
Speaking of surgery, when should a veterinarian recommend surgery for arthritic patients, and what types of surgery tend to
McLaughlin: In those osteoarthritis cases in which the medical therapy is ineffective or there are complications—or in athletic or working
dogs—we're more likely to move to surgery more quickly that in other cases. Also, if we see the condition in younger dogs,
we may suggest treating the joint injury earlier rather than later.
Much of the surgery done on these dogs includes corrective surgery for osteoarthritic hips and joints with ligament ruptures.
At the end, for patients with severe osteoarthritis, we use palliative measures to relieve the pain. These include arthrodesing
painful joints and even joint replacement. Hip joints are commonly replaced to restore function, and elbow and knee replacements
are showing early potential in dogs.
Are there any popular misconceptions in the veterinary community about osteoarthritis treatment that you would like to dispel?
McLaughlin: NSAIDs alone won't solve this problem. They're not an ideal long-term treatment. Sometimes, a veterinarian may have to try
different NSAIDs in different patients, but never two at the same time, as that increases the risk for complications substantially.
What should dog owners do to reduce their aging dogs' risks for arthritis? That is, what advice should veterinarians give
McLaughlin: Clients should be reminded of the clinical signs of osteoarthritis and should look for them in their dogs, especially older
dogs. Once the disease becomes severe, it's much more difficult to treat. The earlier we catch this disease, the more effective
the treatments will be, and the more comfortable the dog will be.
And the signs clients should watch for?
McLaughlin: If their dogs are starting to slow down and be less active. Clients tend to think, "Well, the dog is just getting older."
But if the dog isn't running, playing or catching a ball like it used it, it could be because the animal's joints are uncomfortable
and the dog is in pain. It's best to get the dog checked out. Again, the earlier we can catch this condition, the easier it
is to treat. With early detection, our success rate is much higher.
Loyle is a freelance medical editor and writer in Philadelphia and the former primary editor of the North American Veterinary Licensing