Osteoarthritis is a common problem, particularly in our older pets. About 70% of both dogs and cats will have some degree of arthritis by the age of 8 years. In dogs, 4 out of 5 older pets are affected. Sometimes the early signs can be very subtle. Over time the signs will get more noticeable, as the discomfort increases.
Each animal’s needs can be different and there are a variety of treatments and lifestyle changes that can help. Changes to weight, diet, exercise and medication can all be of huge benefit, and enable your dog or cat to live a happy, comfortable life for much longer.
If your pet has been diagnosed with arthritis please book a complimentary appointment with Debbie Culley our Pet Health Adviser who runs our Arthritis Clinics to discuss the many ways in which we can help your pet to live with this disease.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a term for inflammation in one or more joints. This causes stiffness, pain and discomfort, particularly after resting. Wear and tear throughout your pet’s life can damage the cartilage covering of their joints, leaving areas on the underlying bone exposed. New, irregular bone may develop around the joint, which becomes sore, swollen and inflamed, and the range of movement may be reduced.
Joints that have been damaged in a previous injury are especially prone to becoming arthritic a few years down the line. Dogs with specific problems such as hip and elbow dysplasia often also start showing signs of arthritis at a surprisingly young age.
Why is it important?
Once arthritis has started, it cannot be cured, but if we notice the signs early and manage it carefully, we can slow down the progression of the disease and greatly reduce the symptoms.
Animals can’t grumble about their aches and pains, but arthritis causes ongoing pain in our dogs and cats, in the same way that it does in people. It is important to recognise the problem so that it can be addressed, to allow your pet to have a good quality of life.
What are the tell-tale signs?
- Limping or stiffness (even just for a few steps), especially after a period of rest.
- Difficulty with stairs.
- Becoming less keen to go for walks.
- Playing less.
- Trouble getting to his or her feet.
- Excessive licking of limbs or feet.
- Change in character (anxious, restless, withdrawn, clingy or grumpy).
- Change in appetite.
- Panting in dogs.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
Examination by a veterinary surgeon together with the owner’s description of the symptoms, is often all that is needed to diagnose arthritis and identify which joints are affected. X-rays may be recommended to give extra information, confirm the diagnosis and rule out other problems.
My pet has arthritis – what should I do?
Firstly, we recommend you book a free appointment at our Arthritis Clinic to chat about all the things you can do. They include:
Check your pet’s weight
Even being slightly overweight has a big effect on the symptoms and progression of arthritis, by putting more strain on the joints. Ask a vet or nurse for advice on the correct weight for your pet. We run ‘weight watchers’ clinics free of charge for overweight pets, where we can devise a structured weight loss programme.
Short, frequent walks (several times a day) for dogs will keep them mobile without making them more sore or stiff. It is important for them to do some exercise to stop them getting overweight or losing muscle tone. Gentle play is good for both dogs and cats.
Check your pet’s diet
Is it appropriate for their age? Some diets contain higher levels of antioxidants, essential fatty acids and supplements specially aimed at pets with joint problems. Please speak to a vet or nurse for more information.
Discuss with your vet whether medication is needed
The choice of drug is carefully considered to suit each individual pet. Sometimes all that is required is a dietary supplement such as glucosamine and chondroitin (which helps to protect and rebuild joint cartilage). Sometimes anti-inflammatory painkillers or a course of injections may be more appropriate. There are also some useful herbal diet supplements. One of the vets will be happy to discuss all the options with you in detail.
This is very useful to reduce the pain and discomfort associated with arthritis. It can be used alongside medication or may be sufficient on its own. Acupuncture is performed at Ark House Veterinary Surgery by Sarah Priggen, a Veterinary Surgeon who has received training in Acupuncture. Please ask for further information.
This can enable a pet to exercise without putting weight on the painful joints, helping them to become more mobile and less painful. It can reduce muscle wasting and can also help with weight control. There are several hydrotherapy facilities in the area, please ask for further information.
Small alterations can make your pet’s life much easier
Dogs may appreciate a ramp to help them get in and out of the car, non-slip flooring and a special orthopaedic bed. Cats may need help with grooming, an easily accessed, low sided litter tray, and furniture positioned to make it easy for them to get to their favourite places (e.g. a chair next to the window to allow a couple of easy jumps onto the windowsill, rather than one big leap).