Shining a light on osteoarthritis

Picture this: it’s raining, but you are without an umbrella because the weather channel didn’t call for rain today. Yet hours before, your grandma warned you a downpour was coming because she could “feel it in her bones.” As grandma complained of her stiff joints, you may have brushed off her inclinations for eerie weather predictions. But hours later, as you stand in your sopping wet Mounties apparel, perhaps you should ask—was her precipitation prognostication a granny-level superpower? Or, was the changing weather simply aggravating aging or degenerating joints? 

Humans are not alone when it comes to joint pain. Maybe we should ask our furry friends about how their bones feel. Is the stiffness in our joints felt after walking Waterfowl Park or standing in line at the Cranewood Cafe the same symptoms that our dogs experience? Perhaps the poodle passing by Mane Attraction wasn’t limping from an intense game of fetch at Silver Lake, but rather from a degenerative joint disease called osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, or OA, is one of the most commonly diagnosed joint diseases in veterinary medicine, so much so that it has garnered the nickname ‘the wear and tear disease.’ Unfortunately, this disease extends beyond dogs and can affect a diverse range of companion animals, like guinea pigs, birds, or even Sackville’s famous neighborhood cat, Donald. 

Put simply, OA deteriorates cartilage and bone like a Mt. A student devouring a Goya’s pizza at 2 a.m. on a Saturday. Yet unlike the comfort of cheese and tomato sauce, OA presents a range of unpleasant symptoms, such as stiffness, lameness, chronic pain, and reduced range of motion. Veterinarian Dr. Joāo Alves describes OA as having “a big impact on our animal’s quality of life, performance, and longevity.” To combat the effects of OA, veterinarians have relied on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as a first line of treatment to slow disease progression and provide symptom relief. However, this form of treatment may put our pets at risk of harmful side effects, including gastrointestinal toxicity, or interact negatively with other medications. 

So how can we help our pets without putting them at risk? 

Recently, research by Alves and his colleagues at the Portuguese Republican National Guard were looking into new treatments to keep their working police dogs healthy and happy. According to Alves, the K9 Units are comprised of “a special kind of dog [he’s] learned to love,” going on to say that “these animals never cease to amaze me, and I hope to contribute to their overall quality of life and performance, and to [help them] lead a long, happy, and pain-free life.” 

Motivated by his close connection to the police working dogs, Alves began to investigate photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), a form of light therapy that uses infrared light to reduce inflammation, decrease pain, and promote tissue repair and regeneration. Alves’ research set out to compare the treatment outcomes for both traditional NSAID drugs, like meloxicam, and this novel PBMT approach with 20 police working dogs diagnosed with OA in their hips. 

Over a three-week period, Alves and his team assessed pain levels and mobility in their furry patients and the results were groundbreaking! PBMT significantly reduced pain and increased mobility, compared to the commonly prescribed meloxicam. More importantly, these findings also indicated that PBMT is a non-invasive, low-risk treatment, as they did not detect any adverse side effects, unlike traditional NSAID treatments. Mt. A student Lucy Newman claims that “[her] family has always relied on [the NSAID] glucosamine to treat [their] dog’s stiff joints, but it is refreshing to hear of another treatment with minimal side effects.” 

Alves currently uses PBMT in his rehabilitation practice to treat various health conditions such as otitis, diarrhea, and gingivitis. “I find it to be a great addition to treatment protocols, as it adds a benefit with virtually no side effects,” says Alves, suggesting this form of medicine has just begun to find its place within veterinarians’ toolboxes. 

So the next time you see a limping dog or experience stiff joints, you now know it may in fact be osteoarthritis. However, PBMT may be the light at the end of the tunnel for stiff and achy bones. For more information check out ‘A randomized double-blinded controlled trial on the effects of photobiomodulation therapy in dogs with osteoarthritis.’ by Joāo Alves(2022).

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