It’s normal for our dogs and cats to slow down a bit as they age. But when they begin having difficulty walking or even lowering their heads to eat, they may be exhibiting signs of arthritis, a disease that can be debilitating—but one that can also be managed.
In the latest video from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Dr. Tony Kremer, a veterinarian from Oswego Animal Hospital in Oswego, Ill., says pets—like people—can experience arthritis as they age and their body tissues begin to break down.
"Our joints, and those of animals, have a tissue called cartilage which functions as a shock absorber between bones, and also provides support for and smooth motion of the joints," Kremer says. "As we and our pets age, this cartilage can become thin or break down, causing joint pain. This form of arthritis can be very painful."
Kremer says pets suffering from arthritis generally walk stiffly, limp or favor certain legs. They may experience pain when touched in certain areas or be hesitant to jump, run or climb stairs. Cats with arthritis have difficulty grooming themselves; unkempt fur can be an indication of arthritis.
While arthritis can be painful, it can also be managed. Kremer says veterinarians can prescribe pain killers or anti-inflammatory medications to help ease pets’ discomfort. There are some risks associated with long-term use of these medications, however, so pet owners should talk to their veterinarians to make sure they understand how to administer the medications and what problems to look for. Kremer stresses that pet owners should never give over-the-counter human arthritis or pain medications to their pets.
In addition to medications, Kremer says providing low-impact exercise can also help reduce the pain from arthritis, but warns that too little or too much movement or exercise can increase a pet’s pain level. Veterinarians should be consulted regarding the amount of exercise that would be appropriate and what type would work best for a given pet.
Kremer adds that some pets may benefit from shedding a few excess pounds, too. "This not only takes pressure off their joints and reduces their pain, but also reduces their risk of weight-related problems, such as diabetes and heart disease." Veterinarians can help pet owners develop a safe and effective weight-loss plan for their pets.
Some arthritic pets may benefit from physical therapy, such as swimming or walking on underwater treadmills, and some pet owners may seek acupuncture or other alternative treatments for their arthritic pets. Pet owners should talk with their veterinarians about the proper course of treatment for their pets.
Along with a pain management plan from a veterinarian, pet owners can help make their pets more comfortable with soft bedding, gentle play, and massages, as well as grooming areas that are hard for pets to reach and providing ramps to make it easier for pets to get up or down from high places.
"The most important thing is to take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as you notice a difference in your pet’s behavior or any signs or arthritis," Kremer says. "Your veterinarian can rule out other causes of pain and properly diagnose arthritis. The earlier we can diagnose it, the earlier we can start pain management treatment to help alleviate some of the discomfort."
To watch the video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJiMO994gBg.