Arthritis is a common disease affecting cats and dogs, especially large breed dogs and senior pets, and can greatly affect their quality of life. Younger pets may also be at risk for developing arthritis due to injuries, infections, poor nutrition, and developmental disorders.
Arthritis occurs as a result of wear and tear on the joints, especially if there has been an injury or there is instability in the joint. Cartilage acts like a shock absorber, and if it erodes, the ends of the bones rub against each other causing pain, inflammation, and further degeneration. Arthritis does not have to be a devastating disease. With early diagnosis, intervention, and treatment arthritis can be managed, pain can be controlled, and progression of the disease can be slowed.
If your pet is showing signs of pain or stiffness, and you suspect arthritis, ask your veterinarian to do an arthritis evaluation. This consists of a complete physical and orthopedic exam to localize the source(s) of pain and then x-rays to evaluate those bones or joints. Other diseases can mimic arthritis so it is important to have your pet evaluated as soon as symptoms are noticed. Blood testing may help rule out other less common causes of arthritis (e.g., infections, auto-immune disease, and tick-borne infections) and is also important to evaluate your pet’s overall health, especially prior to starting certain medications.
Surgery may be useful in some patients with arthritis, especially those that have conditions affecting the stability of the joint such as cruciate ligament injuries and luxating patellas. However, it is important to remember that most cases of arthritis are managed rather than cured.
There are a number of signs and symptoms of arthritis, including:
- limping and lameness, especially first thing in the morning and after exercise
- stiffness or difficulty rising from a resting position
- difficulty climbing stairs, getting in the car and jumping onto or off of furniture
- reluctance to go on long walks
- difficulty posturing to defecate
- personality changes such as aggression or depression
In cats, arthritis symptoms may be more subtle as cats tend to be more sedentary and hide their pain. Signs of arthritis in cats may include:
- decreased grooming, especially over the lower back and tail
- decreased general activity and movement
- growling when picked up or touched
There are a number of things that can be done to minimize the pain and progression of arthritis.
- Weight control – Do not overfeed your pet, plain and simple. Carrying excess body weight will contribute to joint damage and exacerbate the discomfort and pressure of arthritis.
- Exercise – Regular, low impact, daily exercise that does not leave your pet sore the next day is recommended. This helps keep muscles strong for support, reduces excess weight, and keeps the joints flexible. Walking and swimming are excellent forms of exercise. Avoid repetitive high impact activities and very long exercise sessions.
- Supplements – Joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin may help to slow the progression of arthritis and decrease pain. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and when given in the ideal proportions they promote healthy cartilage. These supplements complement and are often used in conjunction with other treatments and may even allow a lower dose of other medications to be used. They are best used as a preventative measure before arthritis develops, to keep joints healthy. Keep in mind when selecting a product that supplements are not regulated by the FDA as medications are, Therefore, there is a vast array of quality in products available over the counter and it is best to choose a brand recommended by your veterinarian. These brands may cost a little more but have been thoroughly tested and proven to be effective in clinical trials.
- Drug therapy – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Rimadyl and Metacam provide rapid pain relief and anti-inflammatory activity. Blood testing prior to giving these medications is required to check your pet’s health. It is very important to NEVER give human medications or give medications designed for your pet to others.
- Adequan – This is an injectable PGAG (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan), one of the building blocks of cartilage. A four week series of 2 injections per week is given initially, then weekly or monthly after that. Many of our senior pets have found this treatment to be highly effective, and owners can be trained to give these injections at home.
- Acupuncture – One of the best known and documented benefits of acupuncture is pain control.