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The science behind osteoarthritis pain in pets

Zoetis veterinary experts discuss Solensia, an injectable monoclonal antibody therapy for the control of feline OA pain


At a Jan. 17 session at VMX 2023 in Orlando, Dr. Joyce Login, DVM and senior medical lead at Zoetis, led a live panel discussion about the science behind osteoarthritis (OA) pain in cats and a new therapeutic, Solensia, with Drs. Duncan Lascelles and Matthew McGlasson, DVM. 

Lascelles is currently a professor of translational pain research and management at the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine and McGlasson is the chief medical officer for Noah’s Ark Animal Clinics in Ohio and Kentucky.  

Lascelles explained that OA is a disease where all the tissues of the joints degenerate. It can come with pain, which sets off a cascade of events. Immune and inflammatory cells become unregulated. 

“This sets up a cycle of ongoing pain and low-grade inflammation,” he said. 

OA is a highly prevalent condition in companion animals, affecting up to 40% of all dogs and cats at any one time, and up to 90% of cats as they age. The mechanisms driving OA pain are complex. But thanks to ongoing research, veterinarians have defined the role of nerve growth factor in arthritis pain. 

McGlasson — who took part in 2022 in Zoetis’s early experience program for Solensia, an injectable therapy to control feline osteoarthritis pain — said that there are “silent signals” that can be associated with OA pain in pets. 

In the home environment, pet owners should look for animals having difficulty climbing or descending stairs. Pets might not chase a ball or run like they used to, McGlasson said. 

“They could be less social, or cats even have trouble getting in and out of the litterbox,” he said.  Animals may exhibit fear, anxiety and stress – all of which have a negative impact on pet owners. 

Over time, OA pain has widespread cumulative deleterious effects on the body, said Lascelles. 

“It affects daily activities of living,” he said. It leads to decreased sleep and affects animals’ social relationships. “Untreated OA pain decreases quality of life,” Lascelles said.

McGlasson said that OA pain is under-recognized in cats and, because of that, undertreated. 

“Cats are much better at masking pain, it’s an evolutionary tactic,” he said. Many cat owners he’s worked with thought their cat was being less social, or that behavior changes were a symptom of getting older. 

“The behavioral aspect in cats can’t be underestimated,” he said. 

Nerve growth factor is a protein, explained Lascelles. “In a developing fetus in the early neonatal period, it’s critical for normal development of sensory system,” he said. But in the adult phase of life, nerve growth factor can be over-expressed. When that occurs, sensory nerves become hyper-responsive. Nerve growth factor subsequently plays a role in initiating, driving and maintaining pain.

“Luckily for us as clinicians, we have various pharmaco-therapeutic approaches,” he said. The most developed approach is the use of monoclonal antibodies, which bind to the nerve growth factor and prevent it from interacting with the receptor. 

Monoclonal antibodies have been used successfully in humans for years. This therapeutic also became more well-known at the start of the pandemic to treat COVID-19 in people who tested positive for the virus. 

Zoetis has produced species-specific monoclonal antibodies, including Solensia, an injectable monthly therapeutic that controls OA pain in cats. 

McGlasson said that it is rare to have a therapeutic become available that has a visible impact on a pet’s quality of life. Based on his experience using the injectable, he said pet owners saw major changes in their cats. They returned to jumping up on the bed to interact with the family, came out of hiding and climbed the stairs again. Pet owners told him: ‘I’m so happy to have my cat back.’

“For me, as a veterinarian, I believe the human-animal bond is the strongest bond in the world,” he said. Some of his patients suffered with OA pain for a long time. 

“It’s been so rewarding” to see the response, he said. 

Lascelles said as a clinician scientist, having an effective way to alleviate OA pain in cats will allow veterinarians to also better measure the impact of pain. 

“As a general practitioner seeing these cats on a daily basis, I couldn’t be happier to have this option,” said McGlasson. “Now that we have an option, I look forward to getting better at educating pet parents on what to look for,” he said. 

To learn more about Solensia, visit: Allaboutoapain.com and https://www.solensiavetteam.com/

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