Arthritis is part of the aging process. Every animal eventually gets it and because dogs and cats do their very best to hide their pain for as long as possible, most suffer in silence long before their humans take notice, by no fault of our own! Some dogs just have such happy and bouncy personalities, while other dogs, and almost all cats, are so stoic that unless their pain is very severe or acute, the changes are so gradual they are hardly noticeable for years.
Signs of Pain in Dogs and Cats
Remember, every individual pet is different and copes with pain differently. It’s also worth noting these changes can also hint at underlying disease processes, this will be covered later on in the series.
- Change in activity level (eg. less playing, more laying around, less interest in walks, wanting shorter walks)
- Change in behaviour (eg. less social, more aggressive, not liking being pet in certain spots, not enjoying things they used to enjoy)
- Less interest in food (although there are many dogs who will love their food to the very end!)
- Panting for what seems like no reason
- Not wanting to jump up (eg. showing reluctance to jump onto the couch, bed, car seat, counter, window sill, cat tree)
- Being stiff or slow to get up and down (eg. sitting, standing, doing stairs, getting into the car)
- Less grooming or poor hair coat (it hurts to bend and twist like they used to, so they will groom less, also certain diseases cause changes in the haircoat)
- Seems unable to get comfortable laying or sitting still
- Resents being picked up (if they used to be okay with it!)
- Not using the litterbox properly
- Licking or chewing specific areas, especially joints
Once we recognize signs of discomfort in our pets, we can help alleviate it as well! The MOST important aspect of dealing with arthritis is weight loss! If your pet is even a couple pounds overweight, that puts significant extra stress on their joints – so keep them active and watch their diet. There are also lots of things you can do around the house, as well as supplements and medications that can help!
What changes can I make at home to help my senior pet?
- More non-slip and comfortable surfaces (eg. area rugs, runners, cushy dog and cat beds)
- Raised food and water bowls, so your pet doesn’t need to bend over to eat and drink)
- Ramps (eg. up to couches and beds, over stairs on the deck)
- Lower lipped litter boxes (much easier to get into and out of, some even use lids of Rubbermaid containers or boot trays)
- Blocking off stairs (baby gates come in handy when mobility is an issue and stairs are risky)
- Avoiding major changes (mainly for pets with significantly reduced vision, keeping furniture etc in the position they know helps them safely get around)
- Making water VERY available (hydration is KEY and so making water bowls or fountains available at all times in multiple rooms and on every floor of the house)
- EXERCISE – Use it or Lose it! Aim for 30-60 minutes of walking 5 times per weeks, slowly working toward this in 5-minute increments based on what your pet is capable of, keeping the joints moving and maintaining a healthy weight is key.
When treating arthritis pain, a multi-modal approach is best (ie: using multiple treatments) as this can delay when your pet needs to be started on a long-term medication and can allow for lower doses of medications to be used, especially when supplements are started PRIOR to noticing signs of arthritis. Also, physiotherapy and alternative approaches can be quite helpful!
What can I give my pet to keep them active and comfortable?
- A proper diet and exercise regime – again, a healthy weight is THE most important thing, so feeding with the goal of a lean weight, and maintaining recommended activity levels is priority #1.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids (fish oil) – fish oil is extremely safe, and at specific doses has anti-inflammatory effects – helping to treat mild-moderate arthritis. Best to start this early!
- Glucosamine and Chrondroitin – some studies show these joint protectants have anti-inflammatory effects as well – again, best to start early!
- Other naturally sourced anti-inflammatories – eg. Green Lipped Mussel, Devils Claw
- Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs – very safe and given in a series of injections, can inhibit enzymes that degrade cartilage and collagen
- Pain Medications – there are many types of pain medication that we use to help maintain a good, pain-free quality of life
- Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatories (NSAIDs) – these work very well are the mainstay of chronic treatment of arthritis, once it progresses past being able to control by other means, as long as there are no health issues preventing their use.
NOTE: When it comes to supplements, there are NO regulation requirements, so choosing trusted brands and using under supervision of a Veterinarian is always recommended. Also, there is not a plethora of data on how well most supplements work, but when used properly (this is key! Not everything natural is safe!), they can often be of benefit.
Written by Briarwood Animal Hospital