If your cat or dog is getting on in years, you know how hard it can be to see them age. It's especially difficult if they're suffering from arthritis, which can make them appear slow and in pain—and that's not the golden years any of us hope for our pets. As a pet owner, you might have a lot of questions about arthritis and what you can do to help your beloved companion.
First things first: What is arthritis? Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that leads to swelling and joint pain. While it's more common in dogs than cats, it can affect either species. It occurs when the cartilage between bones either breaks down or develops abnormally, causing friction and inflammation when the bones rub together.
Dogs, cats, and other pets can all suffer from arthritis and for this reason, early detection and intervention to prevent or slow it down are vitally important.
In this article, we’re going to look closely at the symptoms of arthritis in pet animals, how to prevent this painful disease process and how to relieve the pain that your pet may suffer because of it.
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Pets?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as an owner is to confuse those arthritic symptoms with age-related symptoms, or to overlook them altogether. That's why it's so important to be aware of the signs so you can make sure your dog or cat gets the care it needs.
If you've noticed your pet is struggling to get into the car or on the couch, swaying their hips when they walk, getting up slowly, licking their paws more than usual, or just not moving around as much as they used to, your pet may be suffering from arthritis.
- Pain and stiffness: That's right! The most obvious sign is stiffness when your pet gets up. Your pet might have trouble standing up after a nap, or they may walk stiffly. Some pets will shift their weight from one side to the other while others might not be able to climb the steps like they used to.
- Behaviour changes: Pets with arthritic pain may have a reduced desire to play or go on walks. They may seem depressed, become irritable, and some may even become aggressive if you get too close.
- Reluctance to move: A dog who used to run around and play might now seem lethargic, unwilling to move, or reluctant to walk at all. This can be a big change for an active dog!
- Difficulty climbing stairs or moving into the car: When it hurts to move, your pet may find it hard to get into their favourite spots or go places they used to love going. You'll notice them trying different ways of getting onto the bed or couch that are less painful for them. Cats with arthritis will often stop jumping as much and will often prefer being on the ground instead of higher places like tables or counters
So if something's wrong, surely you'd be able to tell, right?
Not necessarily. The truth is, pets can't really tell us what's bothering them—they don't speak our language.
Most pets will go about their daily routine despite being in pain. That's why, as a pet owner, it's imperative that you take a regular, close look at how they move so that you can note any changes in their gait (their way of walking) or other movements. If you do notice that they're moving strangely, slowly or differently in any way, bring this to the attention of your veterinarian right away. It could save your pet some serious discomfort—or even just prevent them from having an accident!
When Is the Best Time to Treat Your Pet for Arthritis?
The best way to care for your pet is to keep them healthy. And the best way to keep them healthy is to be proactive about their health needs.
What does that mean? It simply means that you should take steps now, before the problem occurs, to prevent problems from happening. For example, if your dog has a tendency toward arthritis, then you should be giving them supplements for their joints before they start showing signs of stiffness or pain. Otherwise, once they’re older and arthritis has started, you’ll have to use other therapeutic measures—and even then it might not work well enough!
But why go through all of that when you can just be proactive now? And think of it this way: what would happen if you didn’t address your pet’s arthritis until it became untreatable? Well, at least they’d be in pain. But in some cases it could even kill them! No matter how old your pet is right now, if they are prone to arthritis then you need to stop it before it starts. It’s easier and more effective that way!
We always recommend starting with the most gentle treatment options first, like supplements that provide extra nutrition for strong joints.
What Can Happen if Arthritis is Left Untreated?
Arthritis can go untreated for years and make your pet miserable without you even knowing it. Here are the ugly consequences of not treating their arthritis:
- Massive inflammation can occur
- The inflammation leads to the release of prostaglandins which can cause even more pain
- Chronic pain leads to muscle degeneration due to lack of movement
- Lack of movement leads to cognitive (brain and intelligence) decline
- Their nervous system become hyper-sensitized and can lead to resistance of pain medications, so they suffer even more
Treatments for Protecting Your Pet From Arthritis
Weight Management and Weight Loss
Here's a fact: if your pet is overweight, they will suffer even more from arthritis. Being overweight can even be a cause of arthritis because it places extra, unnecessary strain on the joints, bones, cartilage, and so on.
Several studies have been conducted over the years that have demonstrated unequivocally that reducing your pet's weight will increase its ability to move and thus the quality of its daily life.
Therapeutic or controlled exercise is one of the most effective ways to improve your pet's ability to move and function. This can significantly improve their muscle strength, reduce their pain, and even reduce their need for arthritis medication.
You should consult with your veterinarian about the best course of action, and keep in mind that getting dogs to exercise is much easier than getting cats to exercise (no offence cat lovers.)
Changing Your Pet’s Environment
Factors such as rapidly changing weather, dampness, and extreme cold can aggravate arthritis. For these reasons, it is best to keep any pet suffering from arthritis away from these factors. Some of the environmental changes you can make to help your pet are listed below.
- Make sure that their bed is dry and placed in a space that’s warm and cozy
- Purchase a bed that’s well-padded and soft
- Make sure that the floor around their bed is non-slippery to prevent falls
- Use carpet runners on wood floors
- Reduce or eliminate stairs
- Use ramps to reduce the work needed to get in a car or up onto a bed or sofa
- Avoid excessive play, especially with other animals
Veterinarian Controlled Diets
Several veterinarian-created, controlled diets that contain ingredients that reduce inflammation, help cartilage regrow, and protect joints from further damage have been developed over the years.
These diets are high in omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussel, just like their human counterparts. The results of a controlled veterinary diet vary from pet to pet, but the results have been quite good, with some pets showing improvement in a very short period of time.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the best treatments for protecting your pet’s joints from arthritis and are considered by many veterinarians to be one of the top choices for treatment.
When searching for an omega-3 fatty acid supplement for your pet make sure to find one that is sourced from cold-water fish. How it’s packaged is important as well. It must be dark to protect the omega-3 fatty acid from light and temperature changes, which can damage their molecules and lower their effectiveness. As mentioned above, you will also find omega-3 fatty acids in many vet controlled diets and so, if your pet is already on this type of diet, extra supplementation might not be necessary.
Inflammation of your pet's joints can cause further damage to the joints, cartilage, and bone. Anti-inflammatory medications are frequently prescribed by veterinarians to reduce inflammation and prevent this from happening as quickly. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available for pets to reduce inflammation as well as the pain it can cause or exacerbate.
Over the last few decades, there have been significant advances in this class of medication that have made them safer for your pets. However, in some cases, an animal may have another medical condition that prevents it from being used. As a result, before using NSAIDs, your veterinarian should perform a full medical exam and workup.
Remember that dogs and cats metabolise their food and thus medications differently than humans. As a result, over-the-counter NSAIDs are not advised. Because they can cause liver and kidney disease, intestinal ulcers, and stomach problems, other classes or types of medication may be required in some cases.
Pentosan Polysulphate Sodium
Pentosan polysulphate sodium, also known as cartrophen, has been shown to alleviate arthritis symptoms in a variety of ways. For starters, it significantly reduces inflammation and thus pain. It also improves blood supply to the joints and adds a layer of protection to the cartilage, both of which are critical.
Cartrophen has demonstrated an incredible response in pets, with up to an 80% effectiveness rate. Following a specific treatment protocol, the drug is administered by injection under the skin (subcutaneous), with results typically visible after a few weeks. Even better, when the recommended dose is followed, side effects have been minimal.
Nutraceuticals are foods that contain ingredients that improve health, and their use is increasing. Although scientific evidence is lacking in this area, many veterinarians believe that neutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are beneficial, especially when your pet is first showing signs of arthritis (and for use in prevention). One of the reasons they are thought to work is that they help the cartilage in the joints repair and maintain itself better.
Dr. Maggie Joint Formula is a wonderful daily supplement to prevent joint issues but building the cartilage and lubrication between joints that tends to deteriorate over time. It’s particularly helpful for pets nearing about the middle of their life.
NaturPet Joint Care removes toxins and cleans out calcium deposits in the joints. It also targets pain and inflammation, including pain and inflammation caused by allergies. Plus, NaturPet Joint Care often works in pets not responding to more common joint treatments like MSM, glucosamine, or chondroitin.
If your pet needs a little more pain relief, or you’re not sure what to do for an ACL injury or broken bone, NaturPet Ligaments and Muscles is perfect for dealing with both. It helps speed up healing of soft tissue damage and also reduces pain. In addition, it contains calming herbs to help pets experiencing anxiety as a result of the pain response.