Humans are not the only creatures who must deal with the painful effects of arthritis, a degenerative joint disease. Dogs, cats and other pets may develop arthritis, especially as they reach their senior years. Pets with arthritis must contend with inflammation and pain arising from cartilage breakdown around joints. This exposes bones to painful wear and tear.
Visible clues that your pet might have developed arthritis include:
• Walking stiffly or limping
• Appearing stiff or uncomfortable when rising from a prone position
• Showing lameness in one or more limbs
• Grumpiness and loss of appetite
• Having swollen, stiff or sore joints that cause pain when touched
• Finding it uncomfortable to assume familiar positions
• Not wanting to run or climb stairs anymore
Your pet may develop arthritis simply due to the natural erosion of cartilage caused by aging, or possibly from certain medical and health problems. A trauma, sprain, dislocation or other injury can precipitate arthritis in a part of the body. So can infection, a bone fracture, an inherited condition and obesity. Any dog or cat can develop arthritis, although larger, heavier breeds may be more prone.
Your veterinarian can diagnose arthritis through a thorough exam, coupled with X-rays or MRI imaging and other tests on blood and joint fluid to find out why your pet is in pain. Of course, your vet will review your pet’s medical history, checking for previous injuries. Your veterinarian may ask for any information you have about your pet’s parents to see whether the arthritis has a genetic component.
You and your vet can take a number of positive steps to treat a pet’s arthritis:
1. Weight Control
Overweight pets put additional pressure on their joints, which can cause arthritis or make it worse. Ask your vet for a diet best suited to your pet’s needs. Weight loss may alleviate some symptoms and slow down the condition’s progress. In addition, your vet may recommend regular low-impact exercises or activities for your pet to help take off the extra weight.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are useful nutritional supplements, often called nutraceuticals, that help pets produce natural joint lubrication fluid and assist in the healing of damaged connective tissue. Other supplements your vet may suggest include methylsulfonylmethane (a sulfur-based analgesic), extract from green-lipped mussels and sea cucumbers, fatty acids, Vitamin E and selenium. It’s important to discuss any nutritional supplements with your vet and refrain from giving pets any nutraceuticals meant for humans — the dose may be too high and cause other problems.
Your vet may prescribe NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories) to help alleviate your pet’s pain. NSAIDs help reduce inflammation and swelling in your pet’s joints, but must be administered under a veterinarian’s directions. Never medicate a pet with drugs not prescribed by your veterinarian — it’s unsafe and unwise.
4. Massage and Physical Rehabilitation
This often works just as well for pets as it does for owners. Special underwater treadmills for dogs may help them regain mobility. Other types of rehab include ultrasound therapy, electrical stimulation, thermal applications and range-of-motion exercises. Some vets may also recommend massage therapy and/or acupuncture.
5. Laser Treatment
Much progress has been made in the use of lasers to treat arthritic dogs and cats. Lasers can increase blood circulation and reduce inflammation. It’s also thought that lasers diminish arthritis symptoms through a combination of biochemical and bioelectric reactions that reduce spasms, relieve pain, improve joint function and induce healing. Your vet will work out a therapy plan that usually involves two or three sessions in the first week and then follow-ups in subsequent weeks. Each session takes about 10-15 minutes.
If your pet is in pain and not responding to other treatments, your vet may recommend a surgical procedure to reduce discomfort and improve a joint’s mobility. Severe cases may require surgery to repair, rebuild, fuse or replace a joint.
Making Your Pet Comfortable
You can take a number of steps to make your arthritic pets more comfortable at home:
• Provide them with comfortable bedding, either firm or soft, as your vet recommends
• Keep play sessions short and gentle
• Apply massage and/or physical therapy as your vet directs
• For larger pets, raise food and water bowls off the floor to save them the discomfort of bending their necks and spines
• Groom your pets gently, and give special attention to cats who no longer can fully groom themselves
• Get a ramp so that your pet can get onto the couch or bed with less effort
Finally, have your pet checked regularly by your veterinarian to adjust the treatment plan. Your vet will also let you know about any new arthritis treatments that show promise.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.