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GREENSBORO, N.C. – While 10 million dogs currently suffer from the chronic pain of osteoarthritis, it is now understood that millions more may be at risk of developing the disease. And veterinarians point to obesity and breed as two primary risk factors.
New research now confirms what many veterinarians have believed for years – overweight dogs are at greater risk for arthritis. Dr. Brian Beale, a veterinary surgeon and canine arthritis expert at Houston's Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists, says that obese dogs can develop arthritis sooner than lean dogs. With an estimated 15 million U.S. dogs considered overweight, they now comprise the largest group of dogs at risk for canine arthritis. (See "Canine Arthritis Risk Factors" sidebar.)
"Dogs experience pain the same way humans do, and arthritis pain is the most common form of pain they encounter. It's something we see in patients every day, especially those that are carrying a few extra pounds," says Beale "The first step in preventing or treating arthritis is to make sure the dog is in good condition. If he's overweight, we need to take weight off."
But obesity isn't the only culprit. A dog's breed can also greatly affect the chance of developing the painful disease. In fact, 70 percent of the 16 million golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and German shepherds (the country's three most popular breeds(1)) are genetically predisposed to arthritis,(2) also making them one of the largest at-risk groups.
The large dog population already suffering from canine arthritis or at risk for the disease has given rise to pet owner education programs and advanced drug treatments such as Deramaxx® (deracoxib) – the first and only veterinary pain medication that controls canine arthritis pain and inflammation and belongs to the coxib class of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Human drugs Celebrex® (celecoxib) and Vioxx® (rofecoxib) are also classified as coxib-class NSAIDs.
For veterinarians, identifying at-risk dogs helps owners take preventive measures to offset some of the chance of developing arthritis, and aids in earlier diagnosis and treatment.
In addition to obesity and genetic predispositions, arthritis risk factors include: 1) joint abnormalities, 2) joint trauma, 3) chronic injuries to joint ligaments, 4) high activity and 5) tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.(3)
Diet and exercise are important and are factors that dog owners can control to help prevent orthopedic disorders, especially in at-risk breeds.
"An active dog is a healthy dog," says Dr. Karen Halligan, director of veterinary services at the SPCA of Los Angeles. "However, you also want to be careful not to over-exercise dogs, especially at-risk breeds." Researchers believe that heavily exercised dogs put higher stress on their joints and are susceptible to developing more severe arthritic disorders.(3)
If a dog is at risk, pet owners and their veterinarians can monitor the pet for signs of arthritic pain. Beale says the signs are often subtle and easily overlooked or misinterpreted. Symptoms of pain may include limping; difficulty moving, walking, running, climbing or jumping; and sensitivity to physical contact.
"A dog that fails to jump in bed with his owners at night, or struggles to get in the car, provides clues that it may be dealing with arthritis," Beale explains. "If you see these signs, get to a veterinarian. We can properly diagnose the disease and begin professional treatment."
For decades, pet owners have often relied on aspirin and older classes of drugs similar to ibuprofen to control canine arthritis pain. With the approval of Deramaxx, they can now tap into the same class of NSAID medication that revolutionized human arthritis treatment.
"Deramaxx is designed to target the enzymes responsible for pain and inflammation without targeting the enzymes the body needs for normal body functions, such as platelet formation and gastrointestinal activities, which are critical to a dog's health and well being," explains Dr. David Stansfield, director of professional services, Novartis Animal Health.
Stansfield says that the selective properties of Deramaxx have been scientifically demonstrated by using cloned canine cyclooxygenase during in vitro studies. Although the clinical relevance of these in vitro findings is unknown, researchers are excited about the results.
By controlling some of the enzymes, or chemicals, that stimulate reactions in the body associated with pain and inflammation of arthritis, a treatment such as Deramaxx makes it easier for dogs to move more freely and be more active.
As Dr. Halligan points out, arthritic dogs are often caught in a vicious cycle of not being able to exercise because it hurts. This results in weight gain, which puts even more stress on their joints and makes their arthritis pain even worse.
"We can do something to turn around the quality of life for these dogs. If you see the everyday signs of pain, schedule an arthritis exam with your veterinarian and explore pain control options."
Deramaxx chewable beefy-flavored tablets make the once-a-day dosing an enjoyable experience for both dogs and owners. The dosage and administration of Deramaxx for the control of osteoarthritis pain and inflammation depends on the dog's weight. A veterinarian will recommend proper dosing levels.
As with all drugs in this class, gastrointestinal and renal side effects may occur. These are normally mild but may be serious. In a field study, the most common side effects were gastrointestinal signs. Dogs should be evaluated for pre-existing medical conditions before beginning any new medication monitored during therapy. Refer to full product labeling available from your veterinarian.
Novartis Animal Health US, Inc., headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., researches, develops and commercializes animal treatments that meet the needs of veterinarians, pet owners and farmers. For further information, please consult www.petwellness.com.
Novartis Animal Health is part of Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS), a world leader in pharmaceuticals and consumer health. In 2002, the Group's businesses achieved sales of CHF 32.4 billion (USD 20.9 billion) and a net income of CHF 7.3 billion (USD 4.7 billion). The Group invested approximately CHF 4.3 billion (USD 2.8 billion) in research and development. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis Group companies employ approximately 72,000 people and operate in more than 140 countries worldwide. For further information, please consult www.novartis.com.
Deramaxx is a registered trademark of Novartis Animal Health US, Inc.,
NADA 141-203; approved by the FDA
Celebrex is a registered trademark of G.D. Searle & Company.
Vioxx is a registered trademark of Merck & Co., Inc.
1. "U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook," American Veterinary Medical Association, 2002.
2. Smith, VMD, Gail K, et al. Evaluation of risk factors for degenerative joint disease associated with hip dysplasia in German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Rottweilers. JAVMA, Vol. 219, No. 12, December 15, 2001; 1719-1724
3. "Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine," Dr.s. Ettinger, Feldman. Vol. 2, Chapter 183, 2002