Life after diagnosis
One of the most common health problems in our dogs and cats today. A recent google search of arthritis in pets produced nearly 13 million results, this is definitely something that owners are concerned about for their companions. Dog Quality.com estimates that the prevalence of arthritis on dogs is 20-25% and as high as 90% in cats. So, what exactly is arthritis and how is it complicating my pets life?
Arthritis is a direct result of changes that have occurred within the joint that are painful for the pet. In most cases the change is due to abnormal rubbing within the joint caused by joint instability, damage to the cartilage in development or damage related to a fracture. Under the right circumstances young dogs and cats can suffer arthritic change.
Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joint, it can lead to a more chronic condition called DJD (degenerative joint disease) or Osteoarthritis. With chronicity of this disease the continued deterioration of the cartilage continues and the pain associated with this disease progressively gets worse and leads to a significant reduction in your pets’ abilities to maintain comfortable daily living.
Don’t kid yourself this a very painful condition and requires your attention. Your pet may not vocalize pain to you or say “my leg hurts”, they will show you in other ways and it is up to you to watch for the signs and realize that your dog is telling you that they hurt.
What are some of the symptoms;
1) Decreased level of activity
2) Difficulty or hesitation with climbing the stairs or getting on the furniture
3) Restlessness while sleeping
4) Stiffness in normal walking gait
5) Occasional lameness
6) Thickening and swelling of the associated joints
7) Extreme stiffness after long periods of inactivity
Felines don’t show their discomfort very well this is why its important to look for these tell-tale signs that something is going on with your cat. According to a study done in 2011 by vetstreet 61% of cats over 6 osteoarthritis, cats older than 12 have an 82% likelihood that they have some degree of osteoarthritis. So how are they telling you they are in pain?
1) Inappropriate elimination (the most common sign of osteoarthritis in cats)
2) No longer jumping onto furniture or window sills
3) Changes in sleep behaviour and locations
4) Less play behaviour
5) Hiding more
6) Not socializing
7) Difficulty squatting to eat
8) Abnormal walking
9) Obesity is almost guaranteed to cause OA in CATS and DOGS
There are a number of ways to treat the pain of arthritis and degenerative joint disease and begin the process of attempting to heal the cartilage. The most common and the first line of defence is the use of Nutraceuticals. Nutraceuticals are products that assist in decreasing the inflammation in the cartilage, improve the bodies ability to repair and strengthen tissue. You have probably heard of these products and may already have your pet on them. Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, HA, and Omega Fatty Acids. No amount of consumed nutrients can correct structural damage that is already present but you can still use these products to reduce inflammation at the nerve endings. This will make your pet more comfortable even if their range of motion is compromised.
Steroids, although helpful in reducing inflammation in the joint tissue can sometime contribute to further damage if used long term. Steroid treatment has its preferred place for certain disease processes and your veterinarian will discuss all of your options with you.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Meloxicam, Dermaxx, Rimadyl, Previcox, Onsior can have the most noticeable beneficial affect on the arthritic patient. They can also have a down side and should be monitored carefully with frequent blood work to monitor kidneys and liver and gastrointestinal checkups.
Laser is a non-invasive modality used to manage the pain of arthritis, DJD, Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, spondylosis and many other conditions. It can be safely used while administering other medications and with NO side affects. Infrared light is administered to the affected point, it will start to heat internally. Injured or damaged tissue will absorb the photons of the light and become stimulated. This stimulation increases the metabolism of the cells and begins healing. There is an almost immediate sense of pain relief during this therapy and because it is non-invasive it becomes a treatment of choice for most pet owners.
Physical therapy and arthritis
Physical therapy can be very beneficial for the arthritic patient. The use hydrotherapy, electrical stimulation and therapeutic exercises can help manage your pets discomfort, maintain joint range of motion, stretch and exercise joint tissue and maintain important muscle mass that will support these affected joints. Massage is also a very important modality used to alleviate the pain associated with arthritis and DJD. I cannot express enough how important it is to manage muscle tissue in the arthritic (senior) patient to maintain strength and flexibly. This can mean the difference in reducing slip and fall accidents and speed of recovery from injuries.
Environmental adjustments that can help
With our arthritic pets it is also imperative to make changes in the environment to increase their comfort. These changes will make life easier for your pet in maneuvering around the house and not fear of falling. Some of the changes owners make in their home are as follows;
1) Introducing a raised feeding bowl to keep the body in a neutral position for the spine and elbows
2) Therapeutic beds can be helpful in resonating the pets body heat and providing comfort for the joints
3) Regular activity-adjust to your pet’s current speed but maintain frequent activity to reduce times of inactivity and increased stiffness
4) Placing area rugs or runners in the most common traffic areas for your pet
5) Keeping their feeding area on the same level, avoiding stairs (important for cat owners to also keep the litter on the same level) (also you may have to adjust the litter boxes height as it may be difficult to get into)
6) The use of ramps to get into the vehicle or on the furniture
7) Keeping the fur on the bottom of the feet trimmed and the nails trimmed
These are just a few things that can easily be change in your home to accommodate your arthritic or aging pet. It will make their life more comfortable and you will worry less.
Arthritis and DJD are progressive diseases but with the proper management using a multimodal approach of medication and physical therapy you can help you help your pet live a happy and healthy life.
If your pet has been diagnosed with arthritis talk to you veterinarian today about all of the things you can be doing to help. Your pet will thank you.