Orthopedic issues can cause severe pain in pets, but veterinarians say there are ways to prevent or minimize these agonizing conditions or injuries.

In pets, orthopedic issues can arise from traumatic injuries such as fractures or torn ligaments, as well as genetic or congenital problems, with certain breeds and size dogs more susceptible to orthopedic conditions and pain.

If the pain is left untreated, systemic problems can develop, including increased heart rate and blood pressure and reduced immune function, according to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. The pain may also become chronic and more difficult to manage.

Dr. Douglas Marler, a veterinarian with Merrillville Animal Hospital, says traumatic injuries can occur at any age and in any breed. Orthopedic problems, such as arthritis, ligament tears and spine problems, tend to occur in pets older than 7.

“Cats in general have very few orthopedic conditions in contrast to dogs,” he said. “Small breed dogs are more prone to kneecap and ligament injuries. Large breeds are more prone to hip dysplasia and other types of arthritis, especially Shepherds, retrievers and rottweilers.”

Bone tumors are more common in older dogs as well, he said.

“Any bony structure can be afflicted with orthopedic problems, but hips, spine and knee joints are the most common areas,” he said.

While genetics may make it more difficult to ward off orthopedic issues, the veterinarian says there are precautions pet parents can take to help prevent traumatic injuries and reduce the odds of chronic problems developing.

“Often, mixed-breed pets have less ortho problems, and purebred dogs from good breeders can have less genetic problems, so avoid dogs from puppy mills,” he said.

Proper diet and weight control are important as well, as obesity is a major factor in orthopedic issues, he said.

“Joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin can help, and injuries can be limited by proper confinement in yards and through leash walking,” he said.

If orthopedic injuries do occur, veterinarians may recommend surgery. The same is true for some forms of arthritis and hip dysplasia, a disease in which the ball-and-socket joint in the hip is malformed. Because the ball portion and socket do not meet properly, the joint rubs and grinds rather than sliding smoothly.

Veterinarians may also recommend a pet go on a diet and take supplements.

“Proper pain medication and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can help many orthopedic problems, but don’t use any medication without consulting your veterinarian,” Marler said.

Rest and limits on exercise may help certain arthritic and spinal problems, and Marler advises never to use aspirin or anti-inflammatories in cats without veterinary supervision.

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