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Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a painful, progressive and irreversible condition that's estimated to affect 20 percent of all dogs. It can involve one or more joints, including the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and spine. Although the condition is most commonly associated with older dogs, arthritis can affect puppies as young as six months of age.
In most cases, pain relief is the first step in improving the quality of life for dogs with arthritis, but controlling the inflammation associated with the condition can be just as important.
In a healthy joint, a smooth layer of cartilage protects the ends of the bones, enabling them to glide easily during movement. The cartilage is surrounded by a joint capsule that's lined with a synovial membrane. This membrane produces fluid that lubricates the cartilage, enabling it to act as a shock absorber for the bones.
Trouble begins when the cartilage is damaged from infection, trauma, disease, injuries like ruptured ligaments or conditions that lead to joint instability, such as hip dysplasia. As a dog ages, the water content in the cartilage often decreases, making the cartilage less elastic, and more prone to injury from simple wear and tear or from added stress on the joint due to obesity.
When the cartilage breaks down, it causes inflammation in and around the joint. It can also expose the bones and nerves, leading to pain, lameness and decreased joint movement.
When the cartilage is damaged, inflammatory substances are released into the synovial fluid, including enzymes that can further harm the cartilage. Flakes of cartilage can also mix with the fluid and act like grains of sand, creating more irritation — and inflammation — during movement.
The inflammatory substances also affect other parts of the joint, including the synovial membrane, the ligaments inside and outside the joint, and the muscles surrounding the joint. When the nerve receptors on these tissues sense the inflammatory substances, this results in pain.
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