Cronulla Veterinary Clinic treats arthritis in pets. We provide veterinary services to pet owners in Sutherland Shire.
Winter is nearly here again, and in the colder months our arthritic pets tend to struggle a lot more. What can we do to help them? First, we have to understand what exactly arthritis is.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints. Joints are made up of 2 or more bones which are held together by soft tissue structures (such as ligaments and cartilage) that act as cushioning structures to prevent bone-on-bone grinding.
Arthritis can be caused by different diseases such as septic disease (infections), immune mediated disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis), and even by cancer. However, the most common arthritic disease is Degenerative Joint Disease. With this affliction, damage to the cartilage causes inflammation and pain, and later on can causes changes to bony structures and damage to bones themselves.
The most commonly affected joints are hips, elbows, shoulders, knees, wrists, hocks and intervertebral joints (back bone joints).
Causes and risk factors
Some causes and things that can increase risk of degenerative arthritis are “wear and tear” of the joints as part of the ageing process, congenital abnormalities such as Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia or Osteochondrosis, and athletic or traumatic injuries to joints. Obesity can worsen the progression and symptoms of arthritic problems in our pets by causing additional strain.
Symptoms of arthritis can vary and can range from subtle symptoms to more severe signs. These can include:
Limping or walking with an abnormal gait
Difficulty getting up after rest
Being stiff when first getting up
Difficulty jumping in and out of cars, or going up and down stairs
Reluctance to exercise, or being stiffer on or after longer walks or runs
Pain when handled, or being more irritable overall
Licking or chewing painful joints
Often it is more difficult to recognise signs of arthritis in cats. Any change in behaviour could be due to pain as cats react differently and often try to hide the pain. Here are a few signs that you may spot with cats:
Some cats become less active, and sleep more.
Some cats may struggle to get comfortable.
Some cats may be more irritable, or avoid being handled
If cats find it more difficult to access their litter tray, they may choose to urinate or defaecate elsewhere
Some cats no longer jump straight onto the bed or benchtop, but instead use a step or chair to get there.
Some cats may even eat less and lose weight, or groom themselves less, developing a duller coat with possibly more matting.
A physical examination by a veterinarian is very important to diagnose arthritis. Further testing needed could include radiographs, and occasionally other tests may be needed to rule out other causes for arthritis.
Treatment options and management of degenerative arthritis
Managing body weight is very important in the management of arthritis. Overweight animals suffer more, not just because the extra weight puts more strain on the joints, but also because the excess fat cells produce substances that contribute to pain. At the same time, you don’t want to lose too much weight in the form of muscle mass, as this may make the symptoms worse as well. Aim for the lower end of the normal body weight with calorie restricted diets and exercise.
Keeping the joints moving (gently) is important. Shorter on-lead exercise that builds up muscles such as walking and swimming is important, but avoid high intensity exercise such as fetching ball or catching Frisbees, and if you notice particular stiffness after a long walk then reduce the length of the walks. Frequent short walks are better than one long one.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Adding omega-3 fatty acids to your pet’s diet can help reduce inflammation, and has several other health benefits. These can be taken as supplements or are found in certain veterinary diets. Ask your vet about the right dose to help manage arthritis.
Disease-modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs
Pentosan polysulphate injections can help in three main ways:
Protecting the joint cartilage
Producing protective joint fluid that helps lubricate the joints
Working anti- inflammatory and stimulating production of anti- oxidants
These drugs are administered via 4 weekly injections followed by boosters, and helps to slow the progression of arthritis and control pain and inflammation.
If you’re looking for a non-invasive option, here is another. Neutraceuticals are food supplements that can have a beneficial effect on arthritic joints. The most common products contain chondroitin and/or glucosamine, which are the building blocks for joint cartilage. Supplementation may help strengthen cartilage and reduce inflammation in joints.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication
This is usually an important part of the management of arthritis, as it can help control acute and chronic pain, and can also provide anti-inflammatory properties. These drugs need to be prescribed by a veterinarian, and if they will be used on a long-term basis, veterinary supervision and occasional blood tests are strongly advised.
Home Care for the Arthritic Pet
Providing extra-warm and cushioned bedding is important, especially in winter. This will ease the pressure on joints and keep them from “seizing up” too much.
Stairs can be a problem for pets. If at all possible, limit the need for going up or down stairs, and help lift your pet up or down. Ramps or steps may make life easier for them.
Make sure cats have easy access to their litter boxes by using litter boxes with lower entrances, and have them situated in areas that the cat can easily reach. Have at least 1 litter tray per level in the house so it is unnecessary for the cat to go up or down the stairs to reach the toilet.
As always, make sure food and water are easily accessible.
For more information on arthritis in pets or on these treatment options, or to schedule an appointment, please contact Cronulla Veterinary Clinic today.