In this week’s Petfix Vet Spot on the Today Show, we discussed arthritis in pets. You can watch the video by following the link.
Arthritis is common in elderly dogs and cats, and while it can be treated, this is often not done. Owners often mistakenly think that their pet is just “getting old”. The negative impact that arthritis has on mobility means that many pets are euthanased because their owners feel that they have stopped enjoying life. The truth is that a simple treatment approach is often all that’s needed to put the spring back into their step..
What is arthritis?
Arthritis (more correctly called osteoarthritis, or “degenerative joint disease”) is inflammation of the structures around the joint due to wear-and-tear. Some degree of arthritis is unavoidable 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.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
A strong suspicion can be gathered from just watching an elderly pet moving around, but 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 can be put together by your vet.
How is arthritis treated?
There are three main ways to help arthritis pets
- Weight control. If a pet is overweight or obese, this puts extra stresses on the joints worsening the arthritis. Weight control is a key part of successful management of arthritis.
- Exercise. Moderate but not excessive exercise helps to keep arthritic joints supple and mobile. Shorter walks twice daily tend to be better than one long walk once a day. Physical therapies like hydrotherapy and physiotherapy also have a place.
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 for a cat, etc. The Help Em Up harness range offers a useful way of helping arthritic pets to get around more easily.
- 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 five different groups of drugs and supplements in common use.
Medication and supplements for arthritis pets
- Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). There are many modern and effective NSAIDs designed to treat arthritic dogs. They may be tablets, or liquids, and often a daily dose is all that is needed to improve 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.
- Glucocorticoids (commonly known as ‘steroids’ or ‘cortisone’) 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.
- 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.
- Monoclonal antibodies: this is the latest miracle treatment which is given as a once a month injection. Results are highly promising, with many painful pets having their lives transformed.
- Dietary supplements such as essential fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate can also help. An omega-3 fatty acid supplement (such as Coastal Nutrients mackerel oil) is a simple and cost effective way of increasing the level of natural anti-inflammatories in the diet.
Special diets, and acupuncture are additional treatment modalities that may be recommended.
Products such as turmeric and CBD oil are widely discussed especially on the internet, but evidence supporting their use is limited..