Is your older pet creaking around slowly, taking ages to get up in the morning, and doing less activity than they used to do?
To watch Pete the Vet discussing arthritis on TV3’s Ireland AM, watch the video below
Arthritis in pets
Arthritis is common in elderly dogs and cats, and while it can be treated, this is often not done. Owners presume that their pet is just “getting old” which is a shame, as simple treatment can transform a pet’s quality of life.
Pets don’t die directly from arthritis, but the severe adverse effect that the condition has on mobility means that the decision on euthanasia is often brought about prematurely because of the debilitating effects of the disease.
Arthritis (more correctly called osteoarthritis, or “degenerative joint disease”) is generally due simply to the wear-and-tear of normal daily activity on the different structures of the joints. Some degree of arthritis is inevitable in geriatric dogs and cats. There’s a strong inherited element to the problem, which is why it’s more common in certain breeds of dog (such as Labradors, Retrievers, German Shepherds and others).
Arthritis should be suspected in any animal that is limping, is stiff and slow to move around, or is walking with an odd gait.
The diagnosis needs to be confirmed by a vet: sometimes x-rays and other tests (such as joint taps and even arthroscopy) are needed
Once the diagnosis of arthritis has been made, a treatment programme is usually put together by your vet. There are three main ways to minimise the aches and pains.
- Weight control. If a dog is carrying too much weight, this puts added stresses on the joints. These stresses cause a higher level of joint damage, and consequently more severe arthritis. The first line of management of arthritis may be to use special diets to help a pet lose weight and so to minimise further joint damage.
- Exercise. Moderate exercise helps to keep stiff joints supple and mobile. The exact exercise requirements depend on the individual dog, but in general, the motto is ‘little and often’. This means 15 – 20 minutes twice a day rather than one long 40 minute hike every morning. Other physical therapies, such as hydrotherapy and physiotherapy are also now used to help affected dogs.
Cats tend to exercise themselves, so it is not such a big part of therapy: they do what suits them.
With dogs and cats, owners often need to modify the environment to make it more manageable for affected animals e.g. a ramp into the back of the car, a bigger cat flap, easier access to a window or whatever
- Medication. Modern veterinary science has a number of different drugs which help to ease arthritis by relieving pain and improving the function of the joints. There are three different groups of drugs in common use.
a) Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). This long-winded name describes a very broad group of drugs which reduce the inflammation of damaged joints, and also provide pain relief. Aspirin is the simplest and best known drug in this group, but nowadays there are many other, more modern and more effective NSAIDs designed to treat arthritic dogs. NSAIDs may be in the form of tablets, or liquids, and often a daily dose is all that is needed to transform an old dog’s quality of life. Many human anti-arthritis drugs can cause serious or even fatal results in dogs, so owners must always follow the guidance given by their vet.
Cats can also be given NSAIDS but there are only a few licensed products: they can easily be fatally poisoned if the wrong products are given, so always work with your vet when setting up a treatment plan
b) Glucocorticoids (commonly known as ‘steroids’ or ‘cortisone’). These drugs can provide a higher level of anti-inflammatory effect than NSAIDs, but with more obvious and serious side effects in the long term. They can be given as tablets, or in exceptional cases, an injection directly into affected joints may be suggested.
c) Cartilage sparing and stimulating drugs. This new group of drugs is thought to work by directly protecting the cartilage of the joints, and by promoting healing of damaged cartilage. They do not seem to be effective in every case, but are often worth trying. They can be given by a once-weekly injection for four weeks, repeated every 6 months.
d) Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate can also provide help with the health of the joints.
e) There are other ways that arthritis can be helped, including special diets, and acupuncture.
The correct arthritis management programme is different for each individual animal. It’s best to work closely with your vet to devise a strategy which is custom-made for a pet’s particular situation.
To find out more, watch the video below.