What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease which commonly affects middle-aged to senior dogs and cats, although it can affect pets at any age. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage in a joint erodes, causing the surface to become uneven. Joints can no longer glide past each other smoothly, meaning bones rub together and cause swelling and pain. Over time, the friction causes extra bone to be produced and the arthritic joints become stiff.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Initial symptoms are subtle and will gradually worsen over time. You may notice some ‘lifestyle changes’ such as:
- Reluctance to jump. You may notice lots of anticipation prior to jumping onto the sofa or into the car, or even going up the stairs.
- Reduced playing and exercise, leads to weight gain.
- Sleeping more.
- Cats may be reluctant to climb in and out of the litter tray.
- Withdrawal from social interaction for example, your pet doesn’t greet you at the door anymore, or aggression when touched.
- Aggression towards companion animals.
- For some, urinating and defaecating can become painful. They may have a recurring urine infection – this can be from holding urine for longer than they should. They may also present as being incontinent in their sleep, but this may be urine leaking as they aren’t going as often as they should.
Other symptoms may include:
- Decreased nail wear (you may notice them clicking on the floor).
- Licking the areas that are painful, for example the elbows.
- Swollen joints, especially noticeable around elbows, wrists and knees.
- Walking in an irregular, uncoordinated way and often stumbling or losing balance whilst walking.
- Sitting and standing up strangely, uses front limbs and exaggerated neck motion to stand.
- Muscle wastage, they may appear to have skinny back legs or hips.
What can cause arthritis?
- Diet (increased risk with obesity).
- Trauma (such as a road traffic accident, previous bone break or surgery).
- Genetics – hip/elbow dysplasia, patella luxation (this can lead to shifting of weight and worsening of the condition in other areas).
What are the treatment options?
Dependent on severity, your pet may need joint supplements or joint specific diets. They may also need prescription medication, for example non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) to help with the pain and inflammation. For severe cases additional pain relief might be needed. Your vet will discuss the best options for your pet.
We also offer a range of complementary therapies which can improve an arthritic pet’s quality of life. Firstly, a laser therapy course may be prescribed by the veterinary surgeon. We use a Class 4 laser which emits infrared and near infrared light, aiming to reduce inflammation and increase blood flow to the treated area, encouraging healing. It is a non-invasive therapy where the laser is either rolled over the problem joint, or if tolerated better, a non-contact version can be used. We usually start with an intensive course (2-3 sessions a week) and then slowly going down to weekly or fortnightly treatment, depending on the their clinical response.
One of our vets, Ian, is also trained to carry out acupuncture on suitable arthritic pets, a fantastic complimentary therapy.
Referral for other complementary therapies such as hydrotherapy and physiotherapy can be made by the vet if they believe it would benefit your pet.
What should we see when they are improving with treatment?
Pets will have a greater ability to jump and move, and so be happier with playing and exercise. You should also see an improvement in attitude and they will have a better quality of life.
How often does your pet need to be re-examined?
Usually every 6 months, although this may be more often initially while we work to get their medication and dosage correct.
What are re-examinations likely to involve?
The re-examinations are likely to include a physical examination which will involve the vet feeling the joints and listening to how they sound when moved. There may also be a visual exam, whereby the vet will observe how your pet is walking. These re-examinations are really important, they allow your vet to adjust medication and monitor your pet’s condition.
They may require a blood test to check organ function when on certain medications to ensure that the medication is not causing any adverse effects.
What can I do to help my pet?
- Help the animal lose weight – we offer weight watchers clinincs with our qualified vet nurses.
- Ideally houses should be carpeted or have plenty of rugs in the areas the pet can access, so that they have more grip or cushioned falls.
- Provide cosy bedding that is soft and warm, such as foam or orthopaedic mattresses. It would be ideal to place non-slip material underneath and around the bedding, so they don’t slip when getting off.
- Bring them in for regular nail clips so their gait is not affected by the length of their nails.
- Give a gentle massage on their problem areas when they are resting. This will help to prevent them seizing up and be more comfortable when they stand.
- Raise up their food and water bowl so that they don’t have to painfully crouch down to reach them.
- Add steps/ramps up to higher levels such as cars and beds, to prevent them jumping.
- Try to prevent them using stairs by having a baby gate in front of them. If this is not possible, ensure they are carpeted or covered in non-slip tape. You may also use a harness on your dog and aid them by lifting some of their weight.
- If your dog still enjoys chasing balls, we would recommend reducing the frequency. The quick changes in direction are not good for their joints, and they are likely to enjoy themselves so much that they forget they’re going to be sore!
- Place rubber mats either side of thresholds into and out of the house.
- Out on walks, dogs could wear boots to provide more grip, but these are often not breathable so should not be used for long periods of time.
- Clear passageways that are cluttered to provide a straight path to walk along.
- Opt for a litter tray with a lower entry and exit for cats, there are some specifically designed for senior cats available.