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September 25, 2017

October 12 is World Arthritis Day: As dogs and cats start to age, arthritis is among the most common conditions to affect both types of animals.

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints and can describe a variety of painful conditions that can develop in any joint and in animals of any age. It is accompanied by pain, swelling and stiffness. Arthritis, osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease are often used interchangeably.

Although it is relatively common, arthritis is fortunately not fatal. With the right treatment and simple changes to your fur baby’s environment, you can successfully manage your dog or cat’s condition.  

Causes of arthritis

Most arthritis is simply due to aging: as time passes, the cartilage gets worn down. Like humans, the joints of cats and dogs are covered by cartilage that acts as a cushion between two bones. Cartilage damage can lead to rubbing of the two bony surfaces, inflammation and eventually arthritis. The cartilage deterioration can be caused by joint instability, ligament injury, trauma, degenerative changes, infections (bacterial or fungal arthritis), metabolic disturbances or as a result of an immune mediated disease (rheuma). In other words, arthritis is the result of chronic, low-grade irritation or inflammation. The most common type of acquired arthritis in dogs and cats is osteoarthritis caused by joint or ligament injury.

Essentially, arthritis causes pain, and all symptoms result from that pain. Each dog or cat reacts to pain in a different way. The first step in diagnosing arthritis is for you to recognize the symptoms, so it’s important to know what to look for.

Dogs: Signs of arthritis

The first sign of arthritis in dogs is altered gait, which could mean:

  • lameness or inability to walk
  • knuckling
  • arching of the back
  • lowering of the neck and head
  • shift in weight
  • loss of movement control
  • carrying a limb or limb paralysis.

dog resting in bed with woman

Joint pain is dull and aching: even if your dog experiences severe pain he won’t vocalize or cry. However, some dogs will lick or bite the painful area. Applying warm compresses can help. Generally, arthritic dogs show several signs, which may include:

  • Difficulty getting up and down, jumping or reluctance to go up and down stairs
  • Walking stiffly or lameness in one or more legs
  • Creaking or grating sound in the joint, when in motion
  • Stiff, swollen or sore joints
  • Reluctance to be touched on some body parts
  • Loss of stamina
  • Uncharacteristic aggression towards other dogs or humans
  • Decreased appetite.

Cats: Signs of arthritis

Cat on the lap of an older woman

    You may have difficulty spotting the signs of feline arthritis as they are often subtle: cats are more resilient and tend to hide their symptoms. Some cats will have difficulty finding a comfortable place to rest and/or sleeping position. Other cats show decreased appetite and weight loss. Your cat may experience lameness related to the arthritis, but in most cases it’s impossible to detect. Generally, cats with arthritis show behavioural changes that can be categorized in four ways:

    • Changes in mood, for example: irritable when handled, increased aggression, biting and avoiding contact with people or other animals
    • Reduced activity, for example: sleeping more, hesitation to play, not interested in going out and exploring
    • Reduced mobility, for example: hesitant to jump or makes smaller jumps, stiffness. May have difficulty climbing the stairs, getting into the litterbox or using the cat flap.
    • Changes in hygiene habits, for example: reduced grooming, matted and scruffy coat, inappropriate urination or not using the litter box if it has higher sides.

    What can you do to prevent arthritis?

    The best way to keep your fur baby healthy is to allow her to grow slowly and maintain a lean body condition as a puppy or kitten and into adulthood, by following a species-appropriate and nutritionally balanced diet and providing regular exercise. Doing so can help prevent or delay arthritis symptoms. Talk to your vet about recommendations for a healthy weight range for your dog or cat, or search online for body mass calculators.

    Stay away from extreme activity regimens especially during growth and skeletal formation. Avoid food that is high in fat and additives.

    However, genetic abnormalities, injuries and geriatric changes are a factor. Even the best efforts may not be enough to ward off arthritis, especially in older dogs/cats.

    How is arthritis treated?

    Managing arthritis usually requires a multi-pronged approach and a combination of medication and complementary approaches, such as physiotherapy, diet and weight management. Common general treatment options include:

    • Prescription pain medications – the cornerstone of arthritic pain management are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as meloxicam
    • Possible use of nutritional supplements to help replenish cartilage (glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate)
    • Weight loss regimen if necessary, as obesity can aggravate the symptoms
    • Special diet – high amounts of antioxidant rich foods (phytoplankton, astaxanthin, turmeric, wild berries, herbs such as oregano, basil, cinnamon, parsley, cumin and ginger)
    • Physical therapy and working with a physical therapist who specializes in pets. Treatment might include: swimming pool, stretching and strengthening exercises, underwater treadmill, chiropractic care, cold laser and electromagnetic stimulation
    • A low-stress environment, plenty of affection, and supportive care can help improve any dog or cat’s quality of life.

    What can I do to make sure my dog or cat is comfortable?

    If your dog or cat receives an arthritis diagnosis, there are several steps you should follow in order to improve your fur baby’s comfort and mobility. These include:

    • Soft, padded bedding with cozy blankets or orthopedic bed with built-in magnets, which will alleviate pressure points
    • Raised food and water dishes (elbow height) and keeping a second bowl of water in a separate place
    • Non-skid floor surfaces
    • A ramp for entering and leaving a vehicle
    • Grooming and massaging difficult to reach parts of the body
    • Applying warm compresses to soothe the affected joints
    • Adhering to prescribed feeding and medication recommendations
    older man with long hair cat

      All in all, arthritis is a progressive condition, which means it will continue to worsen if not properly managed. Once signs of arthritis appear, the condition’s progression can be slowed but not reversed. Most animals respond well to treatment and live comfortably, but will need to be on medications for the rest of their lives. Every dog/cat requires a specific, tailored treatment plan, which needs to be discussed in detail with your vet.

      Bio: Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She is a certified nutritionist and is certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia. Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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      *Bernard and Kitty's Waggy Tales articles are for information purposes only and are neither intended as, nor should be substituted for professional advice, or the treatment or diagnosis of any health conditions. Information that is provided in this blog is intended for general knowledge: consult your veterinarian if you have questions about caring for your animal, or about your animal’s health or condition. 

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