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Does your pet suffer from arthritis?

Vetaround - An adorable black dog

During the colder months of the year many of us would prefer to stay in bed under a warm doona than get out of bed and brave the single digit morning temperatures. But spare a thought for your pet.

Not only can they really feel the cold too (especially if they don’t have a thick coat) but they may also be suffering from the effects of arthritis, which are exacerbated in winter and can really affect their quality of life. In fact, one in five dogs suffers from arthritis…and many cats also suffer undiagnosed. So what exactly causes arthritis, what are the symptoms… and what can you do to help your pet if they are diagnosed with arthritis?

What causes arthritis?

Arthritis is either caused by age or injury and it is basically a degenerative (old age) disease that erodes cartilage. Cartilage is a ‘shock absorber’ for the joints and it sits between your pet’s bones to prevent the ends of bones from rubbing together. When your pet’s cartilage is eroded it leads to bone-to-bone contact, which causes them constant pain.

Arthritis is a degenerative and progressive disease because as your pet’s cartridge is eroded their bone grows to compensate. This in turn leads to further bone-to-bone contact and pain. However, although arthritis continues to slowly deteriorate over time, there are some things you can do to either prevent arthritis from occurring in the first place, or to slow down the progression of the disease and give your pet some pain relief.

Vetaround - a staring cat

How do I know if my pet has arthritis?

Unfortunately, you pet can’t tell you if they are suffering from arthritis, however there are certain signs you can look for. Your cat may become reluctant to jump on and off furniture, or she may stop grooming around her tail area.

She will begin to limit her movement, become more sedentary…and even snarl at you or try to bite you if you pick her up or touch her tail or rump area. Her movements will become stiff and jerky rather than fluid and graceful.

Your dog may lick their joints, become noticeably stiffer in the morning or after waking from a sleep, and, like cats, be reluctant to jump up or down, or even climb stairs.

Another sign of arthritis in your dog is if he starts to limp after a long walk or takes much longer to recover from a play at the off-leash park. Sometimes the signs of arthritis can be quite subtle, such as your dog gently shifting of weight from one leg to the other when standing, or taking a while to get settled and comfortable when sitting down.

Because your dog or cat is used to living with the pain and may try to hide the signs, arthritis can be difficult to diagnose. If you’re unsure as to whether your pet has arthritis or not, a mobile vet can come to your home to diagnose whether your pet has arthritis or not and whether arthritis is causing them any discomfort.

Are some breeds more susceptible to arthritis?

There are certain breeds of dog who are more likely to develop arthritis at a young age. Larger breeds of dogs, including Labradors, Retrievers, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Collies and Kelpies, are all more susceptible. Any breed of dog, regardless of size, will be more likely to suffer from arthritis if they have broken a bone. And weight gain in pets also puts extra stress on their joints, again leading to arthritis.

How can I help prevent my pet from getting arthritis?

The best way to prevent your pet from getting arthritis is to avoid weight gain. If your pet is carrying extra weight this puts excess stress on their joints and causes arthritic changes to occur at a younger age. Try to avoid high impact exercises, such as excessive running and jumping for balls or frisbees. And make sure you take your pet to the vet for regular check-ups. If we can pick up on risk factors early we can put a management plan in place to delay the onset and ease the symptoms of arthritis in your pet.

What can I do if my pet has arthritis?

1. Get your pet checked by a vet regularly As part of your pet’s annual health check we will check that their joints are not affected by affected by arthritis. Often your pet will be asymptomatic (not show symptoms) until the later stages of disease progression. If we think your pet may be showing signs of arthritis we will take X-rays at our hospital so we can follow the progression of the disease. And as your pet ages, we encourage you to get them checked every six months.

2. Use fish oil supplements Fish oil acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, so we may recommend a specially formulated diet or prescribe supplements that have a high fish oil content.

3. Help your pet lose weight loss via diet and exercise If excess weight is a contributing factor to your pet’s arthritis we recommend you help them control their weight via diet and exercise. Choose low impact exercise, such as easy walks or swimming, and try to avoid high impact activities, such as chasing balls, jumping, or games with twisting and turning. We can also prescribe a special diet for your pet to help them lose weight, but remember they won’t lose weight if you continue to fed them from the family dinner table…so try not to succumb to those pleading eyes!

4. Relieve your pet’s symptoms with medications Both Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs and (DMOAD’s) Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s) will help manage the severity and the symptoms of arthritis in your pet. DMOAD’s help improve blood flow and nutrient uptake in your pet’s joints, decrease inflammation and speed up the metabolism of your pet’s cartilage. NSAID’s can help alleviate inflammation and pain, giving your pet a better quality of life. Never be tempted to give your pet human medications unless you are told to do so by your vet

5. Change your pet’s environment Simple changes to your pet’s environment can provide immediate relief from their symptoms. Ensuring that their bedding is warm, supportive and comfortable will enable better circulation to their joints, ensuring they won’t be so stiff when they wake up. You could also make them more comfortable by providing a ramp as alternative to stairs or lifting them in and out of your car.

6. Try complementary therapies You might want to also consider trying some alternative therapies. Many pet owners report seeing their pets enjoy relief from arthritic symptoms with treatments such as acupuncture, massage and hydrotherapy.

Don’t leave it too late to get your pet checked

Our pets are living longer, but unfortunately this means more of them are likely to suffer from arthritis at some stage of their lives. Although we can’t cure arthritis, there are many things we can do to help prevent the severity and the onset of arthritis.

And the earlier we diagnose arthritis, the more we can do to help your pet, which is why it’s very important to get your pet checked regularly by your vet If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s risk of arthritis or if you’d like a mobile vet to come to you to assess whether your pet already has arthritis, contact us.

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