As our pets live ever longer and happier lives, age related problems become more and more common. Arthritis is a chronic condition where one or more joints are inflamed and painful.
It is the most common factor that reduces the quality of life of our pets as they get older. Young dogs and cats can also be affected if they are born with joint problems or suffer joint injuries.
We make a diagnosis based on the history (your impression at home) and our examination. Sometimes there can be be subtle changes like reluctance to move normally or avoidance of previous behaviour such as jumping up. Other times there are obvious signs of joint pain with limping or even crying in pain.
It is important to note that animals tend to exhibit pain differently to us. They rarely cry or complain and instinctively hide pain so as to not appear vulnerable. We often only realise animals are in pain when it has been removed and their behaviour changes.
A veterinary physical examination is needed where changes in movement, flexibility and appearance can be found. Often overt pain can be noticed on examination.
Xrays are invaluable in visualizing joint changes and arthritis. It may be possible to xray some joints when the animal is awake, but for good images a general anaesthetic is usually needed. Xrays take a 2D image so at least two views are usually needed. Occasionally more advanced imaging like CT scans or MRI are used to confirm the diagnosis. These are 3D imaging technologies done at specialist veterinary hospitals.
Arthritis generally causes pain and discomfort every day but some cases are intermittent. It is life long and progresses four times faster in animals than people.
There are several things you can do to help your pet with arthritis.
Healthy Body Weight
There have been some large 20 year studies done in the UK that have shown body weight to be the single most important factor in managing arthritis. Lean body weight will positively affect the outcome more that any other measure. For this reason it is paramount to identify the ideal weight range and control weight.
It is also very import to control weight via calorie control in the diet rather that just exercise. Trying to burn off the extra calories will create more hunger, will add wear and tear or injury to the joints and it is rarely successful. It is better to get the weight off with calorie restriction and then increase activity as they are more able to cope with the forces on the joints.
Increased fat in the body system causes a build up of inflammatory factors which significantly worsen arthritis. Obese human will often have arthritic fingers so the problem in not just to do with joints having to carry more load.
Our veterinarians can advise you about the optimal body weight for your pet and help you with strategies on how to achieve it. Sometimes small adjustments in normal diets is all that is needed.
We have had great success with the Royal Canin Satiety diet which is an excellent diet. Our in-house-app advises the optimal weight for your pet then calculates the appropriate amount of food when feeding RC Satiety. A weighing program can be created of expected weight loss.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are the mainstay of management for inflamed joints. In most cases they have marked effects on reducing pain and inflammation. Anti-Inflammatory Drugs can dramatically improve the quality of life of your pet.
Pittwater Animal Hospital recommends newer, species specific medications that are are very safe and effective for your pet.
Side effects are generally mild and uncommon. Serious side effects are even less common if proper veterinary guidelines are used. Most problems occur in the first 3 weeks of treatment. These medications do not accumulate in the pet’s system so the side effect risk only increases if things change in the individual.
Side effects include- Inappetance. Vomiting. Diarrhoea. Lethargy. Blood in the motions. If any of these are seen, we advise to STOP the medication and contact us for guidance.
How do we monitor animals on medication?
–Regular veterinary examinations. These will pick up new problems or even simple things like changes in body weight which could effect dosage. We advise at least 6 monthly checks for animals taking ongoing medication.
–Regular blood testing. Medication should not cause abnormalities in blood profiles, but testing ensures we don’t miss any problems that may arise while they are on the medication.
-Multimodal therapy. Using several different treatments is much more effective than using one type of medication.
-Individualising medications and doses. Each pet is different and we aim to tailor the treatment plan to suit the individual.
Cartophen injections are usually given as four injections one week apart. They increase joint viscosity, reduce inflammatory pain and increase blood flow to the joints. Cartrophen can be used with other medication. Side effects are very rare. The frequency of the course of injections is tailored to the individual but is usually done every 6-12 months.
Exercise should be regular, low impact and only as vigorous as the individual can handle. The goal is to minimize any wear and tear on joints and avoid injuries, while moving enough to maintain muscle strength and bone density.
Building up muscle strength can be helped by attending our rehab classes with Fran from 3 Monkeys. Owners are taught how to manage their dogs mobility problems and build up their pets muscle strength and flexibility. There are regular classes on Fridays at Pittwater Animal Hospital as well as one-on-one sessions.
Please fill out our rehab interest form on the rehab page.
Speciality diets such as Royal Canin Mobility Support (joint diet) are formulated to provide supplementary benefit to painful and arthritic joints.
Also called “neutraceuticals”, these usually contain compounds such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega fatty acids. Pet specific formulations are widely available.
If your pet is having problems with joint pain and decreased mobility it is invaluable to seek the guidance of one of our very experienced veterinarians. A management plan can make you and your pet much happier.
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