Is your pet suffering with Arthritis?

Arthritis means inflammation of the joint and can be caused, for example, by injury, infection, or just years of wear and tear on the joints. The type of arthritis which we usually associated with older animals is known as osteoarthritis (OA). The pain is associated with inflammation which occurs when the cartilage cushion at the joint surface is worn away. OA is very common in older dogs and some older cats. Typical signs can include:

Difficulty rising, particularly after a long sleep

Lameness which can be intermittent or constant, and which can affect on or more limbs (and can shift from one leg to another)

Stiffness when walking or climbing up or down the stairs; or difficulty jumping for cats

Reduced exercise tolerance (reluctance to go for a walk or not being able to walk very far)

Animals which have had a previous injury to a joint, or which are overweight are more likely to suffer with arthritis. Some large breeds of dog such as Labradors, golden retrievers and Rottweiler are more prone to developing joint disease.


What can I do to help my pet?

If you are concerned that your pet may be developing arthritis you should seek veterinary attention.

Weight Control:

It is hard to over-emphasise the importance of keeping your pet at a suitable weight.

Although being overweight does not cause arthritis, it is certainly an important factor ,with excessive weight putting extra pressure through each joint and causing more wear and tear on the joint surfaces. Being overweight will make the symptoms of arthritis worse, and will probably cause your pet to be more dependant on medication to deal with the pain of arthritis.

Careful exercise: 

One of the problems with arthritis is that it makes exercise more difficult and this can result in your pet gaining weight which in turn makes the symptoms of arthritis worse. This vicious circle is difficult to get out of, but careful attention to weight combined with ‘arthritis friendly’ exercise can really benefit your pet. For example:

· Exercising little and often is kinder to the joints than doing one long walk which exacerbates all the arthritis symptoms.

· Exercising on flat ground is gentler on the joints than heading up hill and down dale.

· Swimming is good exercise for dogs with arthritis because the water supports the body weight so that the load across the joints is reduced. This works particularly well for those dogs who have become caught in the reduced exercise/weight gain vicious circle. However, you should introduce swimming very carefully if your pet is not used to this form of exercise or has become very unfit.

Prescription Medication: 

It is likely that your vet will prescribe anti-inflammatory prescription pain relief if your pet is suffering significant pain from arthritis. This medication can be very useful in the long term management of chronic pain. However, as with many medicines, these pain killers can be associated with side-effects, particularly if used long term and at high doses. It is VERY important that you do not treat you pet with human pain killers – this is dangerous and potentially life threatening. If you think your pet is suffering from arthritis you should seek veterinary attention to discuss the various options.

Dietary Supplements or Nutraceuticals:

A nutraceutical is a food component or supplement which is claimed to have a beneficial effect on health. There are several substances which are thought to have some benefits in arthritic animals. They are thought to act by aiding repair of the cartilage in the joint, or more likely by an anti-inflammatory effect. These include:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)
  • L-carnitine
  • Lysine
  • Omega 3 fatty acids

These treatments seem to have a beneficial effect in many patients and are not usually associated with any side effects. They are available in a variety of forms. There are also several complete diets which contain one or more of these components.

Although we are unable to cure osteoarthritis, with careful management in these ways it is possible for our arthritic pets to enjoy a full and active life.

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