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Arthritis in pets: veterinary recommendations for pain management

Aug 17

Categories: Blog

Is your old dog not wanting to go for a walk?... Is your creaky cat crabby and complaining about not getting onto their favorite perches?... Needing a lift to to get Fido into the truck?... Finding out of- kitty litter- box experiences? Well then, it's time to speak with your pet's vet about the pain and problem of arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis.

So sniff out arthritis and stop it in it's tracks. If only our pets could talk, we'd be much better listeners. Your dog can't tell you that his legs are stiff after too much playtime, or that those stairs are "a bear" to climb feeling almost impossible -like scaling Mount Everest. Or, that to your cat, the litter box is just too high and much too much a bother to get in when the flat floor is just so much more comfortable...It's up to us to recognize some of these subtle signs of arthritis and ask your veterinarian to provide relief from the pain caused by inflammation.

Affecting 1 in 5 dogs, arthrits is an inflammatory condition that leads to pain and progressive degeneration of the affected joint or joints. It can cause limited mobility, painful swollen joints, and a decreased quality of life. While many cases of arthritis occur in older, overweight and often larger breed dogs, who may also have a breed predisposition to hip dysplasia, it can cause problems for smaller, younger dogs and even cats. One X-ray study of cats older than 12 years of age showed radiographic degenerative changes in their joints consistent and indicative of arthritis yet their owners were unaware that their cats were having any trouble at all! Many cases go undiagnosed because owners assume that slowing down is just a function of normal aging and is a natural sign of getting older in their pets. Or, that an increase in sleeping is natural for senior pets. Many dogs and especially cats are very stoic and may hide their pain. And now, pets, either dogs or cats, do not have to suffer-no matter their age.

Could your dog have arthritis? Ask yourself now these simple questions:

  1. does your dog tire easily or lag behind during longer walks?
  2. does your dog have a limp or appear more stiff after activity?
  3. is your dog reluctant to climb steps or jump up onto furniture or into your car,truck, or van?
  4. is your dog slow to rise from a resting position?
  5. is it difficult for your dog to lie down often changing direction and position until finally seeming settled or even satisfied to just "plop down"?
  6. does the weather affect your dog's mood and willingness to interact with you? (just like people who can feel weather changes "in their bones" our dogs probably can, too).
  7. doe your dog wake up stiff but appears to " warm out" of the stiffness?
  8. how difficult is it for your dog to walk, run, or hike?

And what about your cats?

  1. does your cat miss the litter box?
  2. does your cat act grumpy and hiss when you pet them?
  3. does your cat not jump on counters, window sills, and perches anymore?
  4. not grooming themselves leading to soiled rear ends or matted coats?
  5. how difficult is it for your cat to play?
  6. can your cat get to and get in the litter box to eliminate?
  7. how does your cat walk down the stairs? do you see them "bunny hopping" down?
  8. are they crabby with their house-mates both the furry and human kind?

Your pets may have difficulties with normal daily activities of living for a variety of reasons. Based on your veterinarian's physical examination and advice, there are many medications, supplements and physical rehabilitation exercises and treatments that can help. So if it's possible that your pet suffers any of the signs listed above, it's very possible that your pet has arthritis and your veterinary health care team can help by recommending a combination of solutions to manage the problem.

Depending on the individual pet,  some conditions are shorter and more temporary than others and may require only brief periods of therapy. Other problems may become more chronic and will need to be treated continuously in what we call a multi-modal treatment plan devised for your pets particular needs in their normal environment.

Our goals are to reduce inflammation, support joints, cartilage and muscle, maintain healthy joint fluid and reduce free radical oxidation which causes more tissue trauma. At Animal Health Care we also believe in rehabilitation therapies that can greatly benefit your pets. We want to restore our patient's quality of life and that begins with the proper diagnosis of the problem, whether it be orthopedic or soft tissue. Veterinarians who use rehab or PT (physical therapy) often depend on manual treatments, directed therapeutic exercises, LASER treatment, hydrotherapy such as our "in water" treadmill, to encourage healing and enhance recovery from injury and degenerative diseases such as arthritis. We will add often a combination of therapies as long as we can manage the pain using some state-of-the-art treatments.

Some other painful conditions besides arthritis can include:

  • muscle injuries
  • spinal injuries
  • intervertebral disc disease
  • neuromuscular disease
  • cruciate injury
  • paralysis
  • shoulder, hip, elbow, knee (stifle) and ankle (hock) problems

As veterinarians we consider all body systems and the living environment of our pets as well as the activity expectations of our patients with realistic expectations to afford a workable outcome. It's very rewarding to us, the animal health care team, and our pet parents, when we can prescibe a treatment plan that works well to help our patients. People used to think old age was a disease, but it's not-- it's a natural process. Like us, as our pets age they may have more aches and pains, but now we as the veterinary team can do things to make them feel more comfortable and still lead a good life. Senior medicine is recognized in pets, just like in their people, as a stage of well care and prevention care. Being proactive can help but it's a joint effort!

  • feel free to comment or ask about any activities that are difficult for your pet- we may bark a lot but we won't bite:)