With the colder winter weather some of us will be noticing our joints are feeling more achy and the same will be true of our dogs and cats. Cool weather can leave joints especially stiff and tender, meaning an increase in discomfort for pets suffering from arthritis or even highlight that you pet is suffering from the condition.
What is it?
Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is the inflammation of the joints caused by wear and tear of the cartilage and the other associated tissues. Cartilage covers and protects the ends of the bones in a movable (synovial) joint. The cartilage has no nerves so when it touches the cartilage of another bone, there is no pain.
When the cartilage wears away, the bone is exposed. The bone does have nerves so when the two bone ends in a joint touch each other it results in pain and inflammation signals that arthritis is present. In degenerative joint disease we also see small bony projections (osteophytes) form on the bone that is close to the joint. This adds to the pain. This type of arthritis is progressive, meaning it continues to get worse.
What causes it?
Osteoarthritis is either age related as a result of wear and tear on the joint, or secondary to another problem within the joint, such as hip dysplasia, a ruptured cruciate ligament or trauma.
Signs of arthritis
Arthritis by its nature develops gradually so animals tend to learn to cope with the discomfort without showing any obvious pain. As a result some dogs and cats can appear to be very stoical about the pain from arthritis- often it is only once the pain has been treated that owners realise how much their pet was suffering.
Signs of arthritis in dogs include;
🐶Sitting down on walks
🐶Slowing down on walks
🐶Stiffness, especially getting up after rest
🐶Hesitancy to climb steps
🐶Difficulty jumping into the car
🐶Change in character (restless, anxious withdrawn, clingy, grumpiness)
🐶Quiet - spending less time playing with family; which can be mistaken for a sign of 'aging'
🐶Excessively licking over a joint
Signs of arthritis in cats include;
🙀Reluctance to play and exercise
🙀Lose ability to jump up to, or down from heights
🙀No longer grooming themselves
🙀 Irritable/grumpy when stroke
🙀 Crying when picked up
🙀Difficulty stepping into litter tray
🙀Difficulty stepping through the cat flap
We recommend a visit to see one of our vets if any of these signs (or other changes) are noticed in your pet.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
Your vet may suspect that your pet has arthritis from the signs you describe and by performing a thorough health check. The vet will manipulate the joints gently to check for swellings, heat, evidence of pain, range of movement and crepitus (a grating feeling when the joint is manipulated). Sometimes it is necessary to take an x-ray to find out what is going on in the joints. This usually requires a sedation or general anaesthesia and a separate day appointment is arranged for this.
How is osteoarthritis treated?
The goal of treatment is to decrease pain, minimise lameness, improve mobility and provide a good quality of life for affected patients. Arthritis cannot be cured.
Dogs and cats that suffer from chronic pain caused by conditions like osteoarthritis often become inactive, which can result in obesity. Controlling your pet's weight will lighten the load on arthritic joints and make it easier for them to move around. We appreciate that reducing the weight of an animal that finds exercise painful is not easy. Please speak to a member of staff about our weight clinics which are run free of charge. We will be happy to give ideas regarding diet, weight targets and design exercise strategies to suit your pet, as well as providing help and support whenever required.
is essential because it contributes to strengthening the muscles that support joints. Moderate amounts of low-impact exercise each day will improve joint mobility and can help get a lethargic, arthritic pet active again. Dogs will benefit from such activities as walking and swimming (hydrotherapy) ; cats can profit from play that keeps them moving without excessive jumping. Consult your veterinary surgeon about what amount and type of exercise would be best for your pet. Also, be aware that your dog or cat's arthritis pain may be more severe at certain times than others. If this is the case, let your pet take a break from his or her exercise routine for a few days, until the painful flare-up subsides.
known as non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (NSAID), are often prescribed to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Their efficacy is well documented. Any reduction in pain at the lowest possible dose will allow for an improved quality of life and limit any possible unwanted side effects. Before use, your pet will be assessed for their general health and regularly monitored whilst on any medication. Please ask your veterinary surgeon for more information.
Please note: It is NOT safe to give your pet human anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicines.
Diet and Nutraceuticals
There are particular diets such as the Royal Canin Mobility that can really improve the signs of arthritis. It contains both nutrients that help with the inflammation, including anti-oxidants, and helps with weight management. Do speak to your vet.
Joint supplements (nutraceuticals) are also found to be very good in some cases. These nutritional supplements are especially useful in the early stages of the disease or when recovering from a joint trauma (including surgery). They can be used solely as a preventative measure too. These supplements often include ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin that are useful in supporting the health of the cartilage and surrounding structures.
The regulation of such supplements is limited and as such the quality may vary greatly from one manufacturer to another. One should always use those recommended by your vet.
Your pet's well-being
Making a few adjustments to your pet's environment can help to keep them more comfortable and mobile. A few suggestions are;
Spend some time cleaning and grooming your pet. Check their claws to see that they aren't becoming overgrown. Encourage play and interaction to provide exercise and mental stimulation.
Have regular check up's; it's important to maintain communication with your vet to ensure that your pet is enjoying their senior years.
- Make sure that you provide a well padded cosy bed, out of draughts. Ensure that it can be readily accessed.
- Allow your cat to reach their favourite places easily by placing a box or item of furniture as a launch pad.
- Make sure that your cat can reach their litter tray easily and check that the sides aren't too tall; that they are able to step into it comfortably.
- Reduce the need for your pet to have to climb the stairs.
- Allow easy access to food and water without the need for your cat to jump up.
- If your dog appears unsteady when out walking or has difficulty on uneven surfaces, a harness may offer them additional support by distributing any pressure from the lead over a larger area. This means that you may be able to assist them in keeping their balance making it easier for them to walk on uneven surfaces or going up or down stairs.
- If you have laminate, wood or vinyl flooring that your dog is slipping or sliding on, you could consider the use of rubber backed mats, particularly where your dog would lie down, turn or stand to eat, to help them grip the floor.
- If your dog is having difficulty reaching their bowls on the floor, you could consider raising the bowls a little off the floor or there are a variety of raised bowls on the market, to find a more comfortable height for them to eat and drink at.
- Consider a ramp to aid your dog getting into and out of the car.
Consider alternative therapies
Hydrotherapy (which involves your dog swimming in a purpose-built pool) helps to build muscle mass to better support joints. Swimming is low impact and so tends to be more comfortable for dogs with stiff joints. Other therapies, such as acupuncture, could be considered.
Your vet will be able to discuss which therapies will be most appropriate for your pet and where you will be able to find them locally.
Once arthritis has started, it cannot be cured, but if we notice the signs early and manage it carefully, we can slow down the progression of the disease, greatly reduce the symptoms and so improve your pet's quality of life.