How to spot Arthiritis in your pet, and how to Live with it.

Arthiritis’ definition is ‘Inflammation of the Joints’, and occurs when the usually smooth cartilage that covers the bones surface becomes damaged and roughened, causing friction and pain whenever your pet moves. With increased friction comes the formation of new bone at the affected joint, making it even stiffer and harder to move; a condition that we Veterinarians call Degenerative Joint Disease.

Although most commonly seen in middle-aged and older pets, these arthritic changes can also be seen in younger cats and dogs. Arthritis within the affected joint/s causes pain, which gives rise to visible behaviour changes and it’s these behaviours you might pick up on in the early stages.

Seven signs commonly seen in Arthritic pets are:

· Limping, or favouring one or more of their limbs

· Spinal Issues

· Lethargy/Tiredness

· Difficulty moving – in general or after a period of rest

· Irritability

· Muscle Atrophy (loss of muscle tone and bulk)

· Licking, Chewing or Biting the affected area/s

Cats may jump less or to/from lower heights and groom less, so you’ll notice their fur getting more matted. In general, cats are less active than their Canine counterparts so you might not realise how more inert they’re becoming until it’s been happening a while. Many pussies are averse to going out in the cold and wet anyhow, but when they’re suffering with arthritis they will be even more reluctant to venture out in these conditions – and with good reason.

Cold and damp will make symptoms of arthritis worse, as it does in us humans, but unless your furry feline or canine companion has got a retirement kennel or cage or the Spanish Costa’s, this is something that you and they will have to learn to adapt to.

Something that will be glaringly obvious to dog owners is if your once energetic, raring to chase things, let’s go walkies 24/7 hound becomes reluctant and less enthusiastic about his/her exercise. But here’s the crazy thing; gentle exercise is actually really important in managing Osteoarthritis (OA), because prolonged rest or inactivity causes more stiffness, so it’s crucial that poochy keeps mobile.

It’s not just from a pain management perspective that exercise is important for your fur-baby; health-wise it’s important too. The downside of being less active is that it can lead to weight gain (as we all know!) and excess pounds put pressure on the muscular and skeletal systems, which then leads to the pain and lack of mobility getting even worse. It can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy of weight gain / increased pain/ more immobility; the good news is that it doesn’t have to become like this.

Here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre we can help with the management of your pets’ pounds, especially portly pooch’s J. We have regular health and weight management clinics and have recently begun stocking Virbac Veterinary HPM feeds, two of which (weight loss & diabetes, and joint & mobility) may be really useful in your pets’ circumstance.

So let us assume that you have been watching your furry family member’s health, have got suspicions that all is not right, and have contacted the SLVC team; what happens next? Well, firstly, we listen to what you describe has been happening – after all, you know your pet and their habits best – and then we begin to examine them.

Sometimes Fido or Kitty will ‘guard’ the painful joint and be reluctant to let us move it. We are used to growls, hisses and general grumpiness and actually, if a normally happy, placid fur-client shows us any ‘back off, buddy’ signs it can confirm that there is definitely something amiss that we need to get to the bottom of. Flexing and extending their limbs is commonly when we get confirmation that the joint is stiff and restricted in its normal range of movement. When we’ve completed this examination and are pretty confident that we’re dealing with arthritis, we may then go on to X-Ray the area to confirm arthritic changes in the joint.

Just an interesting fact to note: arthritic joints aren’t usually hot to the touch, or swollen; joints in this condition may have an infection within them (due to an injury or bite) and we would take a sample of fluid from around the joint to identify any infection and administer relevant treatment.

Once we have diagnosed Arthiritis, we have a few options at our disposal; Cartilage protectors, Joint supplements (nutraceutical rather than medicine, but useful nonetheless) Anti-inflammatory drugs and Laser Therapy. It can take a bit of swap and change until we find the right treatment and dosage for your pet, but this attention to detail is well worth it for the quality of life that they can go on to have.

We also have another (super) weapon in our arsenal here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre: Veterinary Physiotherapist, Emma-Jayne Bailey. Alongside medicine and regular general exercise, the best thing for arthritis management is tailored exercises to maintain the optimal range of movement in the joints. To discuss any aspect of rehabilitation and mobility with Emma-Jayne just pick up the phone, and we’ll get you an appointment with her as soon as possible.

Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy 🙂