Arthritis means inflammation of the joints and is a very common and debilitating problem in middle-aged and older dogs and cats. Even younger dogs and cats, under the right circumstances, can suffer from arthritic changes. Arthritis causes changes within the affected joints that are painful for the affected pet. This pain is responsible for many of the signs associated with arthritis.
Here are some of those common signs:
You may see your pet limping or favoring one or more of his legs, depending on which legs and which joints are arthritic. In some cases, the limp may seem worse when your pet first rises and become less noticeable as your pet “warms up” by moving around
Your pet may also become reluctant to do things that were previously easy for him to accomplish. For instance, your dog may find it difficult to get into and out of the car or may have difficulty going up and down stairs that were previously easily manageable. Arthritic cats, on the other hand, may stop jumping onto countertops, perches and other high areas because of the pain and discomfort
Your pet may tire more easily. For dogs, this may mean that walks become shorter and more painful for your pet. Your pet may spend more time sleeping and/or resting.
Arthritic animals may become irritable. They may snap and/or bite when approached or handled, particularly if the petting or handling takes place in a manner that increases their pain
Licking, Chewing & Biting
Pets affected with arthritis may also begin to lick at, chew or bite at body areas that are painful. This may even reach the point of causing inflamed skin and hair loss over affected areas
Arthritic pets often develop muscle atrophy or dying off of the muscle tissue due to inactivity and decreased use of the muscles. A pet with atrophied muscles in their legs will have a leg which looks thinner than a normal leg
How do vets diagnose arthritis?
By taking a thorough history from the owner
By thorough examination in the consultation room
By employing diagnostic imaging modalities such as x-rays
Is there any treatment for arthritis?
Fortunately, in the majority of cases arthritis can be managed effectively and your pet’s quality of life can be returned. The following are important steps in managing this condition:
1. Keep your pet slim. Being overweight extenuates the symptoms of arthritis significantly. Put simply, the more weight your pet’s joints have to support the more painful it will be for them.
2. Regular restricted exercise like lead walking is better than high intensity exercise, like running off the lead. Non weight bearing exercise such as swimming and hydrotherapy can be a terrific help.
3. Joint Supplements. Veterinary strength joint supplements (only available from your vet) contain many ingredients which help maintain the cartilage in your pets joints and act as a natural pain killer.
4. Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s). Many older animals (and people) rely on daily anti-inflammatory medication to improve their quality of life and allow them to go about their day to day business. Modern medications may actually only be required to be administered once monthly. Blood testing at least annually is recommended whilst on such medication.
5. Chondro-protective medication is available as a course of injections from your vet to help reduce the breakdown of cartilage in your pets joints and therefore reduce their joint pain.