Winter is coming! It brings with it the fresh crisp winter air, warm cosy fires, soups and stews, but for our elderly furry friends it also often brings with it aching joints. The cold weather tends to often emphasise the pain of arthritis and it is important that we make sure our companions are pain-free and happy this winter and always!
What is Arthritis?
It is a non-inflammatory degenerative joint disease, which occurs when cartilage in the joints is worn away faster than it can be replaced. Cartilage acts as a cushion to protect the bones, so when it wears away, joints become swollen and painful.
It is the most common joint disease affecting both dogs and cats over 1 year of age. It can occur in any animal but is often predisposed by dysplasia’s (hip/ elbow dysplasia), previous injuries or trauma to the joint such as cranial cruciate ligament or cancer in the bones/joints. Large breed dogs tend to suffer from it quite commonly in their old age.
How do I know my animal has it?
At home you would notice your pet has difficulty rising from rest, climbing stairs, jumping, playing, walking and running. Cats may just ‘become old’ and rest all day and reluctant to jump up onto counters and windowsills.
It is diagnosed on physical exam by your vet, where abnormalities in the range of motion in the joints, pain, instability and crepitus can be picked up.
X-rays may help to diagnose Osteoarthritis however the severity of the disease cannot be shown on an x-ray and sometimes the x-rays will look normal but there may still be osteoarthritis present. CT scans and MRI’s are also very useful tools to diagnose joint problems.
What is the treatment?
Osteoarthritis cannot be reversed and there is no cure, however there are many things we can do to make your pet more comfortable and try help prevent the progression of the disease.
1 – WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
Obesity or excess weight places increased loads on joints and thereby exacerbates joint disease. Excess weight also accelerates the degeneration of joints and makes the clinical signs of the disease (limping, pain) worse. There is evidence to suggest that proper body weight management delays the clinical signs of osteoarthritis and decreases the need for anti-inflammatory medications and surgery.
2 – FOOD
Specific joint diets recommended by your vet contain supplements which help to maintain joint health and soothe tissues around the joint, as well as having controlled calorie content to prevent weight gain. These diets have been proved to help ease pain as well as slowing the progression of osteoarthritis. Sometimes a diet food will be recommended to reduce your pet’s weight before placing him/ her on a joint diet as weight management is VERY important.
3 – FOOD SUPPLEMENTATION
If for any reason a specific joint diet cannot be given to a pet, there are many joint supplements ranging from oils and powders to tablets that can be given to ‘add to’ their normal diet. These are usually non prescription and are available over the counter.
4 – MODERATE EXERCISE
Exercise is still very important in order to keep weight down as well as to help keep muscle mass up (to support the joints).
Exercise should be controlled and low impact – such as leash walks and swimming.
Allowing dogs to run around madly is strongly discouraged as this is very high impact and traumatic to the joints, causing pain and progression of the arthritis.
5 – ENVIRONMENTAL
Animals with sore joints often feel it worse in cold weather and when lying on hard surfaces. Thus providing your pet with soft padded beds and allowing them to sleep indoors or in a warm kennel especially in winter will really help to keep them more comfortable.
6 – NON STEROIDAL ANTI INFLAMMATORIES (NSAID’s)
NSAID’s are prescription drugs, available from your vet, on diagnosis of Osteoarthritis. They are anti- inflammatories and thus really help to control pain. They should be used with caution as they can have severe gastro-intestinal side effects (vomiting and diarrhoea) as well as long term effects on the kidneys and liver. They should always be given with food and should not be given in conjunction with other anti inflammatories or corticosteroids.
The purpose of control measures (1- 5) as mentioned above are to decrease the dosage and frequency of NSAIDs required, as much as possible. It sometimes becomes necessary to use NSAID’s daily and with this chronic usage it is recommended that blood tests are done to check your pet’s liver and kidney function before placing them under the extra strain of the drugs, as well as follow up blood tests every 6 months. We always strive to find the lowest dose possible for your pet while still keeping him/ her free of pain, as this, in the end, is the most important thing.
7 – PENTOSAN POLYSULPHATE INJECTIONS
Another, newer product on the market is Pentosan polysulphate injections. These have been proven to enhance cartilage regeneration within the joint and can be hugely beneficial. They can be used on their own or can be combined with Anti-inflammatories according to your pet’s needs.