The Petplan Charitable Trust has given several grants to studies into arthritis because it is a condition that affects very large numbers of our companion animals and one in which a much better understanding into its causes and treatment is needed.
Most warm blooded animals can get arthritis and like humans this is often associated with age. However, young dogs can suffer badly as the condition often follows hereditary diseases of joints such as the hip and elbow, often called dysplasias. Arthritis is also a common sequel to ligament damage in the knee of middle-aged and overweight animals. Dogs can be severely debilitated by arthritis and difficulty in walking combined with overfeeding leads on to obesity making the problem even worse. As well as the common osteoarthritis vets also see the less common but even worse condition of rheumatoid arthritis with severe disruptive changes in the joints. Cats too get arthritis and one peculiar variety is associated with too much raw liver in the diet.
Osteoarthritis is the commonest of all diseases affecting the dog with around 27% of dogs between the ages of 8 and 10 affected Sadly the pain involved means that, although very effective treatment is nowadays available, it is still sometimes a reason for putting a dog to sleep.
While these new treatments are evolving all the time, often linked to developments in the human medical field, they do little to stop the progression of the disease. X-Ray pictures showing abnormal bone being laid down in and around the joint underlines the difficulty of treatment. Just as in humans the pain is severe enough, in some cases, to warrant complete replacement of joints. Much more understanding of this distressing problem is required if we are to avoid its life threatening consequences. This is where the Trust really helps.
A three-year programme at the Liverpool Veterinary School is searching for the genetic basis of canine osteoarthritis. Identification of abnormalities in the genes can rapidly lead to a test, which will identify those animals that carry the disease, but don't suffer from it. Avoiding the use of these dogs for breeding can rapidly eliminate most of the problems.
We have also provided funds for special studies at the Glasgow Veterinary School into how arthritis develops, The work centres around how the cartilage lining of the joint ages and repairs and what goes wrong in arthritis. The project extends to growing new cartilage in test-tubes and the possibility of using these cultures to stimulate a repair process in the joint. A similar approach is being studied again at the Liverpool school. Novel test tube techniques are being used to grow new cartilage cells on "scaffolds" which then become the basis of tissue grafts.
Anyone who owns a dog which is slowing and stiffening with age and needing therapy for painful joints will understand how important it is for the Petplan Charitable Trust to continue to support this work.