Good morning, humans! (Well, it’s morning for me, as I just woke us from my mid-morning feeding nap) Today we are going to talk about something that’s been affecting me lately, and lots of other dogs and cats I see at our hospital: Joint Disease.
As our pets grow older, it becomes more probable for them to develop some form of joint disease. It can be mild, even unnoticeable to the pet owner, or it can be debilitating, severely affecting the pet’s quality of life; joint pain may even cause partial or complete lameness. While some pets may develop joint disease in their younger years due to injury or over-exertion, signs of joint pain usually do not appear until the later half of life, depending on your pet’s breed. Dogs are more susceptible to arthritis than cats, and the larger dog breeds are more vulnerable than smaller breeds. So, what should you be looking for? The most common signs of joint disease include stiffness, limping, or favoring a limb (especially after sleeping or resting), inability or trouble getting up, reluctance to jump or climb stairs, and noticeable pain.
There are many diseases and problems that affect the joints of pets, such as:
1 – Ligament, tendon, or muscle problems and joint fractures
2 – Inflammatory joint diseases, like Lyme
3 – Congenital/genetically inherited disorders
4 – Degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis)
5 – Dietary and hormonal disease, like hyperparathyroidism or obesity
There are far more causes of joint disease in pets than are listed here, but fortunately there are just as many methods of managing and treating joint pain.
Weight management is one of the first things we look at. All surgical and medical procedures will be more beneficial if the animal is not overweight. Considering that up to half of the pets in the U.S. are overweight, there is a fair chance that many of the dogs and cats with hip dysplasia/osteoarthritis are also overweight. Helping a pet lose weight until they reach the recommended weight and maintaining that weight may be the most important thing an owner can do for a pet. This may be the hardest part of the treatment, but it is worth it. You, as the owner, have control over what your dog eats. This method also goes hand-in-hand with exercise. Activities that provide a good range of motion and muscle building and limits exertion on the joints is the best. Leash walking, swimming, walking on treadmills, and trotting are excellent low-impact exercises. In general, too little exercise can be more detrimental than too much, however the wrong type of exercise can cause further damage. While watching a dog play Frisbee or catch is very enjoyable and fun for the dog, it is very hard on a dog’s joints. Remember, it is important to exercise daily; only exercising on weekends or just occasionally may cause more harm than good if the animal is sore and reluctant to move at all. Beyond losing weight and exercise, sometimes a little physical therapy is in order. Our veterinary staff can show you how to perform simple physical therapy and massage on your pet to help relax stiff muscles and promote a good range of motion in the joints. Remember, your furry friend is in pain, so start slowly and build trust. If therapy isn’t an option for you to perform on your own, we have a few wonderful Pet Therapy Specialists in the area who would be happy to help rehabilitate your companion animal!
Most of us humans who have arthritis find that the pain and other symptoms are worse in cold, damp weather. The same is true for pets! Keeping your pet warm and insulated will be much more comfortable. You may want to consider keeping the temperature in your home a little warmer, or provide your pet with a warming pad or cushy orthopedic foam bed. Orthopedic or dense foam beds distribute weight evenly and reduce pressure on joints. Another option for pain management is medication. Medical management is appropriate for both young pets with clinical signs (mostly dogs in this case) and for older animals with chronic osteoarthritis. Because of the high cost involved with many surgeries to correct ligament injuries or joint fractures, medication is most times the only affordable option for many pet owners. Anti-inflammatories and joint supplements may be used in tandem to help treat joint paint, and you may even need to use pain control medications and analgesics. Glucosamine and chondroitin found in joint supplements give the cartilage-forming cells in the body what they need to synthesize new cartilage and to repair the existing damaged cartilage. These products are not painkillers; they work by actually healing the damage that has been done. They generally take at least six weeks to begin to heal the cartilage and most animals need to be maintained on these products the rest of their lives to prevent further cartilage breakdown. These products are very safe and show very few side effects. Anti-inflammatory medications (known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs) are strong and effective painkillers and anti-inflammatory agents. They are prescription products and, because of potential side effects, careful adherence to dosing quantity and frequency must be followed. The manufacturers and veterinarians recommend periodic bloodwork to be done on pets that use these medicines to monitor any developing liver problems resulting from their use. And, of course, pain control medications are used often in pets with joint pain to do just that – control the pain. It may seem as though your pet is getting a lot of medication and pet owners may be resistant to giving medications to their pets, but it really does wonders to help pets with joint pain and arthritis feel so much better! We have seen significant improvement in painful pets with prescribed pain control medications – they are happier, move more easily, and seem like their young selves again.
**It is very important while speaking of medical pain management to mention that you may never give human medications such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol to a pet! These are toxic and fatal to your pet! Please ask a veterinarian for a safe, pet-approved medication to help treat joint disease pain before consulting Dr. Google.**
In the event that the above options do not work, or that your pet has a congential issue or ligament/muscle/bone injury, surgery may be the best option to correct and treat the problem. We work with several surgical experts who can have your pet up and running via surgical procedures to correct cruciate and ligament tears, bone problems, hip dysplasia, and more. For pets who do not need surgical repair and only display more soft tissue or muscle related joint disease,
Acupuncture may be a good treatment option. Our own Dr. Garrood is a certified pet Acupuncturist and sees many pets who are having problems with walking, lameness, and degenerative joint pain. Many of her patients experience great recovery within a few sessions!
So, if you see your pet exhibiting stiffness, lameness, limping, problems getting up, problems jumping or climbing stairs, weight gain issues, inactivity and sleeping more, urinating around the house or other behavioral issues, call your veterinarian promptly. We can evaluate your furry friend and see if their problems are stemming from joint pain or related issues and get them the treatment they need to be happy and healthy again!
I personally am happier when I have my Metacam dose – it helps me a lot and keeps me jumping!