Are You Talking to Your Clients About Osteoarthritis?

June 5, 2018
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

Osteoarthritis is an important topic among veterinary professionals, but is it addressed in the exam room as often as it should be?

There are many reasons why veterinarians may fail to bring up the subject of osteoarthritis (OA) with clients during an examination—not enough time, a young patient, etc.—but delaying the discussion could be doing a disservice to both the patient and client. Here, Joyce A. Login, DVM, senior manager of veterinary specialty operations at Zoetis, shares some suggestions for initiating the OA conversation and helping clients understand the potential magnitude of the disease. “One of the biggest tips,” she said, “is to actually have the conversation.”

Start the Conversation Early

It’s never too soon to have a conversation with a pet owner about OA, Dr. Login said, especially if the patient’s breed is prone to hip dysplasia or degenerative joint problems. “With Labrador retrievers or golden retrievers, for example, [OA is] a good thing to talk about right out of the gate when they’re puppies,” she explained. “This provides pet owners with the opportunity to watch the pet’s weight, pay attention to exercise habits, and adhere to preventive measures that don’t involve medication.”

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Don’t Dance Around the Topic

Dr. Login recommended using checklists during examinations—even wellness visits—that prompt clients to answer questions about whether their pet is experiencing pain. It’s important, she cautioned, that these questions are relatively simple and not overly clinical in nature. For example, “Does your dog greet you at the door?” and “Does your pet have difficulty going up and down the stairs?” are both great conversation starters that can unearth evidence that the patient is experiencing more pain than the client may realize.

Many times, veterinarians have to walk the fine line between getting clients to understand that their pets are in pain and not making them feel guilty that they’ve let the problem persist. “We may tend to lean toward softening the message so we don’t hurt the client’s feelings or make them feel like they’re a bad pet owner, but I think it’s important that we address it,” Dr. Login said.

Remember That You Are the Patient’s Advocate

It’s important to remember that even though the client may not report that a pet is experiencing significant discomfort, animals with OA are in pain. Therefore, it’s imperative that veterinarians are on the lookout for signs that could be an indication of a larger problem.

For example, behavior changes—such as a dog that has become aggressive or is excessively licking a particular area—might signal OA, even if the pet isn’t limping or its gait hasn’t changed dramatically. The same is true for cats as well. A cat that refuses to use the litter box isn’t necessarily doing so out of spite. Instead, Dr. Login explained, you may want to consider that joint pain is preventing the cat from physically being able to lift its legs to get into the box. “There are things that pet owners don’t recognize as pain because animals hide it so well,” she added.

Never Stop Trying

Even if discussions about OA don’t become part of a your routine appointments, Dr. Login encouraged veterinarians to consider OA when documenting a patient’s history and to keep an eye out and an ear open for subtle signs. Some pet owners might not be as receptive to these conversations if they don’t outwardly recognize that their animal is in pain, but that doesn’t mean veterinarians should stop trying to educate clients. “It’s important for clients to understand—especially with pets that are going to be prone to it—that OA is a chronic disease and it’s not going to go away,” she said.