Gungahlin Vet Hospital

Does Your Pet have Arthritis?

Cold weather and stiff joints seem to go together. However, arthritis doesn’t just affect humans – arthritis is just as painful and movement limiting for our pets as it can be for us, especially in the colder months.

Arthritis is extremely common, with surveys showing that as many as one dog in five, and up to 80% of aged cats, actively suffer from this very debilitating condition. Unfortunately, most pets are very stoic, and do not show the pain and discomfort they are suffering. This is especially so during activities that the pet enjoys. We expect the pet to “cry”, however pets often communicate their discomfort in ways we perhaps may overlook.

Some common signs that your pet may be suffering from arthritis include:

  • Stiffness upon rising, especially first thing in the morning
  • Reluctance to play or walk
  • Difficulty in climbing stairs
  • Stiffness after activity
  • Change in personality, for example less happy, less playful, sometimes irritable, and perhaps even aggressive.
  • Cats, in particular are difficult to assess. They will often show a reluctance to jump down from a height.

A thorough physical examination, and perhaps radiographs, will enable us to give you the best possible advice for your pet. However, a few generalisations are possible.

  • Weight control is the number one most effective treatment option – we can help with advice and where necessary special weight loss foods.
  • Exercise should be controlled – pets with arthritis or other muscle bone and joint problems should be kept fit, but avoid strenuous exercise. Walking and swimming are ideal. Short frequent exercise is better than infrequent long exercise.
  • A soft bed in a warm place helps prevent stiffness after rest.

 

Other treatment and preventatives

 

Almost all pets with arthritis will benefit from a course of chrondro-protective agents. These are unique in that they help rebuild damaged joint cartilage and improve the lubricating action of the joint fluid – acting on the cause of the arthritis rather than hiding the symptoms. A course of 4 injections, seven days apart often provides relief for 12 or more months. There is also an oral formulation which can be used.

 Prescription Diet j/d is a, clinically proven complete food for dogs, and now for cats, which nourishes the joints, is anti-inflammatory, and stops cartilage destruction. Scientists have identified that the enzyme aggrecanase is responsible for cartilage degradation in dogs, and that this enzyme can be "down regulated" by EPA (eicosano-pentanoic acid). EPA is an Omega-3 fatty acid and comes from fish oils. Prescription Diet j/d has the highest level of Omega-3 fatty acids of any pet food, and is the only commercial source of EPA available. Discuss this with the vet at your pet’s next consultation.

While these joint protective agents provide excellent relief, some animals need either short or long-term pain relief. Recent advances in the class of drugs known as NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) have provided veterinarians with much safer medications for long-term control of chronic pain. Tablet and liquid preparations have been available for some time, and one of the drugs we often use comes as a tasty chewable tablet. Dogs just gobble these up! These preparations make the control of chronic pain and discomfort easier for the pet-owner and safer for the pet.

Very recently there has been considerable work into adipose stem cell treatment that has gained media attention. Currently, the technology is in its early stages, and as such there is little published data on the efficacy, and it is expensive. If you have any questions, or are interested in adipose stem cell therapy contact us for a discussion.

Alternative therapies for the management of arthritis include physiotherapy, acupuncture, natural remedies and sometimes surgery. Physiotherapy and acupuncture can be arranged by referral.

Most importantly, all pets with arthritis can be helped. In the majority of cases owners tell us how the old pet “is acting like a pup again” or “this has given her a new lease of life”.

Pets don’t just get old and slow down – they almost always have diseases associated with the ageing process that can be treated or managed, to give them back the quality of life they deserve.

Greg Knight and Michael Hayward