From the Field

Osteoarthritis: When Age Is Not to Blame

Emi Kate Saito VMD, MSPH, MBA, DACVPM (Epidemiology)

Dr. Saito is a member of the Veterinary Affairs team at Banfield Pet Hospital’s headquarters in Vancouver, Washington. As senior manager of Veterinary Research Programs, Dr. Saito leverages Banfield’s electronic medical records to understand pet health trends and to improve patient outcomes by supporting Banfield’s Medical Quality program. She is an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Pennsylvania, Emory University, and the University of Colorado and a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. Her broad career history includes laboratory research, small animal practice, and animal health surveillance in a variety of animal species.

Osteoarthritis: When Age Is Not to Blame
Photo: Shutterstock.com/Dmytro Zinkevych
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As veterinary professionals, we know all too well that the signs of osteoarthritis (OA) can be missed or misinterpreted by pet owners. Many times, the subtler clinical signs associated with osteoarthritis are thought to be normal age-related changes.

Because this leads to underdiagnosis of OA, we focused Banfield Pet Hospital’s 2019 State of Pet Health® Report on osteoarthritis, including how the condition is linked to excess weight. The largest of its kind, Banfield’s 9th annual report was generated using the electronic medical data from the more than 3 million dogs and cats cared for at our hospitals in 2018.

The primary goal of our State of Pet Health Report is to raise awareness among pet owners of the need for regular preventive care and emphasize the role of veterinary care. This year’s report focused on client education to better understand OA and its tie to excess weight, debunk common myths about OA and obesity, learn how to recognize signs of OA-specific pain, and lay the groundwork for conversations with their veterinarians about how to approach diagnosis and management. For the most common signs of osteoarthritis in pets, check out this resource below.

OA is a Weighty Issue

In 2018, over 6% of dogs and 1% of cats were diagnosed with osteoarthritis—a 66% and 150% increase in prevalence in these species, respectively. We also found dogs with OA are 1.7 times more likely to be overweight and cats 1.2 times more likely. Conversely, we found overweight or obese dogs were 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with OA.

As initially detailed in the 2019 Veterinary Emerging Topics (VET)® Report, we identified some barriers to OA patients receiving care, including pet owners not recognizing their osteoarthritic pet is in discomfort or pain. In addition, we found 51% of dogs and 41% of cats newly diagnosed with osteoarthritis are also overweight or obese.

We also turned to our partners at Whistle—a fellow Mars-owned company that produces location and activity tracking devices for pets—to conduct a preliminary analysis from the Pet Insight Project to look at behavior data of the tens of thousands of participating dogs wearing the Whistle activity monitor. This resulted in initial findings that support decreased activity in some of our pets with OA or ones that are overweight or obese (Figure 1).

A Joint Effort

As veterinary professionals, we recognize client education and communication are the key components to pets receiving the best care and outcomes. As such, it is important that we remain up-to-date on the latest management and treatment options, ensure that we present a thorough diagnostic plan, set aside the time to get a complete history in order to perform the needed diagnostic tests, and set clear expectations for both the immediate issue and the lifetime of the pet. These are the building blocks of a partnership in developing a proper care plan for each pet, leading to a win-win-win solution for the client, the pet, and the veterinary team. Visit stateofpethealth.com for more information on Banfield’s State of Pet Health Report, including our 2019 osteoarthritis findings and client education tools.

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