As our pets age, just like us, their bodies face a multitude of new challenges. Getting back up after a sleep may be accompanied by a groan, that easy run might seem a bit harder, slower and heavier. What used to feel like second nature may need a bit more effort as the years tick along.  Thankfully, thanks to advances in knowledge and medicine, veterinarians can now identify and treat age-related illness much more effectively. This is especially true for pets suffering from arthritis.  There are several types of arthritis, the most common being the age-related degenerative form – Osteoarthritis.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis is a very common condition that affects mostly older cats and dogs, however, young and middle age pets can also be affected. Research suggests 1 in 3 cats suffer from arthritis and 1 in 5 dogs. If left untreated, arthritis can cause your pet to suffer chronic pain, difficulty in movement and a general decline in quality of life.

What causes Osteoarthritis?

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that can result from the cumulative effects of abnormal stresses placed on the joints such as malalignment of bones in the joint for example, hip and elbow dysplasia, or with trauma, ageing and gradual wear and tear on the joint surfaces. Obesity can also contribute to arthritis as it places greater loads on the joints.

How does Osteoarthritis affect my pet?

Many people will no doubt know of a dog or cat suffering from arthritis that has shown the textbook signs of pain, discomfort and stiffness. If you notice limping, reluctance to jump, climb stairs and/or play, difficulty rising after sleeping/resting, decreased enthusiasm or energy levels or a personality change, your pet may be suffering from arthritis. However, these symptoms are not specific to arthritis and can be caused by other diseases, therefore if your pet is showing any of these signs it is important to get your pet examined by a veterinarian.

What can we do to manage Osteoarthritis?

At Tauranga Veterinary Services all our vets are able to examine your pet, discuss the findings of the examination and the behaviour patterns you are seeing and advise you of the best way forward for your pet. The disease can be diagnosed by palpation, watching the changes in walk (gait) and by taking x-rays of the joints to look for the tell-tale deposits of bone in the damaged joint. Early identification of arthritis is really important, and once confirmed as the cause, a management plan will need to be developed by you and your veterinarian.

Arthritis cannot be cured, but the condition can be prevented from worsening and managed to an extent that your pet can still live a healthy and happy life. There are several pathways to reducing the effects of arthritis, and your veterinarian will help you decide which options are the best for your pet. These include:

  • Weight control: If your pet is overweight, there is unnecessary pressure being placed on those sore joints, making the pain worse. It is important that your pet’s weight is kept under control and we have diets and programmes available to help with this.
  • Exercise: In moderation, exercise will help to keep the muscles that support the joints toned. Gentle, regular exercise is the best and swimming in the warmer months can provide good low impact exercise. The aim is to maintain muscle and joint health, not wear the joints away. The exercise needs to be enough but not so much that it causes pain (usually seen as a reluctance to rise after resting post-exercise).
  • Environment: Ensure your pet has a warm bed away from cold draughts and is well padded. Other changes around the home environment could be preventing the use of stairs/steps, using rugs over slippery floors, using a ramp for movement into the car/bed/couch to avoid jumping, reassessing use of a dog door if they are having to jump through it, and avoiding certain activities such as chasing balls.
  • Medication: There are many different brands of safe medication, dietary supplements and options for treatment of arthritis today. Depending on the severity of arthritis your pet may be prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, joint protective injections, prescription joint diet, and/or omega 3 oils.

In addition, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and physiotherapy are all good complementary therapies that may aid in arthritis management.

If you think your pet could be showing signs of arthritis or if you have any questions or concerns, our team can assess and create an individual management plan giving your pet the best pain free life they deserve. Call us on on 0800 838 7267.