Look out during Winter, as it brings with it cold, damp conditions which exacerbate painful, aching joints in humans and animals suffering with arthritis.
What is it?
Osteoarthritis is a progressive, degenerative joint disease caused by, among other: trauma, joint instability, conformation problems and inflammatory conditions. It can vary from a mild discomfort to a severely debilitating and painful disease, mostly (but not exclusively) affecting older animals. It is far more common in our domestic pets than previously thought.
What to look for:
It is a condition often overlooked in our animals, particularly cats, as they often show only subtle signs of the disease.
Symptoms include: lameness, aggression (especially changes in behaviour), reluctance to rise in the morning, stiff or unusual gait, depression, reluctance to walk or play, crying out with certain movements, difficulty going to the toilet.
Cats may hide away, not move from warm spots, cry/hiss when stroked along their back and be unable to jump as well as they should. It may be as subtle as not eating, as the cat finds it too difficult or painful to jump onto the counter where the food is kept!!
First of all, your pet should be checked by your vet who will do a general health check as well as specifically looking for the source of the problem. This may include further diagnostics such as radio-graphs. He/she will then design a treatment plan which may include any of the following:
A Weight Control Program: Arthritic pets must not be overweight as this stresses the joints.
Exercise Moderation / Moderate Exercise: Inactive dogs must start going for walks as this will help them to maintain a good condition, strengthen the muscles that support the joints, and strengthen and lubricate the joint surfaces. Overactive dogs must have their exercise moderated as excessive exercise will lead to more joint wear. Regular, controlled exercise is best. Specific, non-impact exercise like swimming may be used in certain cases. Remember: If your dog hurts after exercise, then you have overdone it!
Diet and Diet Supplements: Ensure that you feed the correct diet for your pet from when they are young. There are specific veterinary diets now available for arthritic pets which work very well in many cases. Supplementing with Omega-3 fatty acids, preferably of fish origin, can be hugely beneficial.
Nutraceuticals: Chondroitin and Glucosamine have become very popular in both human and animal treatment / prevention of arthritis. They act by strengthening the joint cartilage and increasing the lubrication of the joint. These products are poorly regulated, so ensure that you get good advice on which product is best for your animal.
Other Joint Supplements: There are various other joint supplements on the market, including many homeopathic medications. Again, ensure that you get sound advice before giving these products to your pets.
Anti-inflammatory Medication: Given only on the advice of a vet. Animals are very sensitive to certain human drugs, so beware! Did you know that paracetamol is lethal to cats?
Surgery: Sometimes necessary, but often avoided if you recognise and manage the problem early on.
The treatment of osteoarthritis is a multi-modal approach. Every animal is different, has different requirements and responds to different treatments. The trick is be proactive in identifying the problem so as to limit the damage, and institute a management plan to give your pet a happy, pain free old age.
*updated 12 July 2017