Having a pet companion is one of the best things in the world. They make us laugh, give us a sense of purpose, and offer unconditional companionship. Of course, we want them to live forever. In reality, our dog and cat family members age much quicker than we do, and so it’s very important to recognize illnesses that tend to come as they age. One of the most common of these is arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that occurs when one or more joints becomes painful, swollen, stiff, or difficult to move. The pain may come and go and is often worst after a long period of inactivity. Some joints can become swollen and hot to the touch during a flare-up. Stiffness in the affected joints is a direct result of the pain and swelling that occurs and results in an overall difficulty of moving. Arthritis affects almost all species of animals, including humans, dogs, and cats.
Does My Pet Have Arthritis?
It’s important to pay attention to our pets as they age or after a serious injury involving the joints. Arthritis tends to slowly creep up and build over the course of months to years. It’s very easy for pet parents to miss early signs of arthritis because our dogs and cats are great at hiding small amounts of discomfort until it is too great to mask.
Some subtle signs to look for include:
- Slow to stand after sitting or laying down for some time.
- Trembling limbs when standing or sitting.
- Trouble climbing stairs or jumping on and off of furniture and other surfaces.
- There is less interest in going for walks, runs, or engaging in more strenuous activities. Oftentimes, pets will still engage, but may run or walk slower, or tire much more easily.
- Increasing irritability, especially when touched.
In dogs and cats, the most common joints to be affected are the wrists, elbows, hips, lower back, and knees.
Your vet has the tools to diagnose arthritis. Bloodwork and urine tests can be used to rule out other diseases that can also cause pain. X-rays of arthritic joints often show subtle changes in the joint spaces. Arthroscopy, where a small camera is inserted into a joint, can confirm arthritic changes and sample fluid from the joint to rule out infections and other auto-immune disorders.
Regrettably, arthritis is not curable. All we can do is try to manage the associated pains and slow the progression. Here are some tips for managing arthritis:
- Weight management: Carrying extra weight increases the amount of strain on the joints. Maintaining a lean, healthy weight decreases strain on the joints.
- Physical therapy and light exercise: Staying active helps to keep the joints lubricated. Swimming is a great option that not only takes the weight off the joints but also supports muscle building.
- Joint supplements: Glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), chondroitin sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids are well-studied supplements that have been found to maintain joint lubrication and slow the progression of arthritis.
- Prescription medications: Many prescription medications are available through your veterinarian to help manage the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain drugs (NSAIDs) are one of the most common to be prescribed.
- Surgery: If the arthritis is severe and debilitating, your veterinarian may present surgery as an option to help reduce the pain involved and improve mobility.
How Else Can You Help?
There are still a number of other things you can do at home to help an arthritic pet.
- Ramps or stairs: These can help your pet reach higher areas such as beds and sofas.
- Rugs or carpeting: Rugs and carpeting are easier for pets to grip with their paws. Slipping and sliding across slippery surfaces is not fun for an arthritic pet.
- Raise food and water bowls: Raised bowls are easier for pets to reach.
- Lowered litter boxes: Decreasing the effort that cats need to reach their litter boxes will prevent them from becoming discouraged or reluctant to potty.
- Slings, bags, and strollers: Helping your pet with a sling or bringing them around in a bag or stroller can be good ways to get your pet up and moving and allow them to have a change of scenery.
Warmth: Without a doubt, colder weather causes our joints (humans and pets!) to become more painful and stiff. Keeping your pets warm helps to keep the joints lubricated and less achy.
What other questions or concerns do you have about arthritis and your pet? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in our comments section or contact us on Facebook, Instagram, or e-mail!
About the Author:
Dr. Debra Chen, D.V.M. has been a practicing companion animal veterinarian for over three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to moving to the Bay, she received both her veterinary and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. After spending a third of her life in Taiwan, she is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, animal behavior, and surgery. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chen can be found camping, hiking, eating, or traveling with her husband and Formosan Mountain Dog, Tuna. They also share a home with their two feline overlords, brown tabby cats Cairo and Khaleesi.