Arthritis in Ageing Pets
The joys of ageing. Can you remember the day you stood up and your bones creaked? The moment you realised your body wasn’t as young as it used to be? It’s the same for our pets, but with a year in our life being approximately 7 in a dog or cat’s life, the process is much more accelerated compared to people.
Osteoarthritis is becoming more common especially as our pets tend to be living longer lives. Classic signs include being stiff to rise out of their bed first thing in the morning, avoiding jumping up on the sofa or countertop, and slowing down on walks. Sleeping more can also be a sign of osteoarthritis. However, cats and dogs are not very good at showing us the signs and as its gradual onset process we often tend to just chalk these signs up to ‘old age’.
So how can we help our ageing friends? Each pet is individual so needs an individual plan so you may have to try a few things or a combination of methods before you notice a difference.
The single biggest thing we can do for our arthritis patients is weight loss if they are overweight. Pop into any vet clinic and a nurse will be able to do a weight check with body condition score and advise you on a target weight for your pet. Takes about 10 minutes, usually free and can really benefit your pet. This is because the less weight we carry through the joints, the less pressure and wear and tear that is happening, which slows down the rate of arthritis.
Other simple things that can be done around the house include making sure the bedding is nice and thick and there are lots of comfy options for pets to sit on around the house. If you have wood or linoleum surfaces try adding in some mats or rugs to help prevent slips and falls. If you have stairs to get into the house a small ramp can really help pets get around.
In terms of exercise, the best approach is consistency. If your dog can manage 20 minutes around the park every day for example try to stick to the same amount of exercise daily. If possible try to avoid hills and strenuous exercise (e.g. chasing a ball) as this puts extra strain on the joints. As dogs age, doing two smaller walks can be less strenuous on their joints also.
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can be helpful in pets but can take a long time to see a result. The quality varies between brands so try to buy one specifically manufactured for pets. These supplements are also found in commercial dog and cat foods designed to promote joint health. These tend to be labelled ‘mobility’ ‘joint care’ on the bag somewhere to identify which foods have added supplements to them. The same compounds are found in injections often given by vets to help with the signs of arthritis.
Other things like acupuncture and hydrotherapy are also options. These treatments have the benefit of not affecting any internal organs, so in patients for example, who have kidney or liver issues, it’s another tool to help alleviate pain without affecting internal organs.
As arthritis progresses some pets can benefit from veterinary assistance in the form of medications aimed at alleviating pain. We strongly recommend avoiding using human anti-inflammatories like paracetamol as particularly in cats they are toxic and you are more likely to have unpleasant side effects like vomiting, diarrhoea and gastric ulceration. Vets have a wide range of drugs to choose from and will tailor your treatment plan to you and your pet.