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How to help pets cope with arthritis

Osteoarthritis in animals, just like in humans, is a painful joint condition that mainly affects the older members of the family. The pain comes from the bones in the joint rubbing together. Normally there is smooth cartilage on top of the bone to allow the joints to move smoothly and without friction or pain. But if the cartilage is worn away or damaged then this causes pain, swelling and reduced joint movement. 

Our pets are more at risk of this if they are overweight, have had a previous joint injury or have any joint deformation from birth (e.g. hip or elbow dysplasia) - some breeds are more likely to get this than others!

Signs of arthritis in our pets often gradually get worse over time and can be difficult to notice at first because they can be so subtle, especially in cats. It is often worse after lots of exercise, inactivity (e.g. first thing in the morning) and cold weather. It is common for this to flare up so you may see these signs some days but not others, especially at first. 

●     In dogs you may see stiffness, limping, slowing down on walks and not wanting to jump or go up or down the stairs. 

●      Cats often hide their pain better than dogs and you may just see them sleeping more and being less active. Sometimes they overgroom the areas that hurt, but also they sometimes struggle to groom if it is painful to do so. If it is painful to step over into the litter tray your cat may stop using it and instead soil the house. 

If your pet shows any of these signs, the best thing to do is to bring them in to see us. Some of these things can be indicators of other diseases as well - it is better to get it checked out if you are concerned. One of our vets will ask you some questions about the problem and the rest of your pet’s health and give them a thorough check over. If they think that what you are seeing is related to sore joints then they may give you some pain relief to try. 

With arthritis, nothing we can do will cure it and it will tend to get worse over time, but we can almost always manage the pain with medications, which is the most important thing for our pets. 

However, there are also plenty of things you can do to help your pet cope with this at home. Alongside pain relief these can work really well and make a big difference. 

●     Consistent exerciseis the most important thing you can do for your dog. It is important that every day your dog gets a manageable walk. This keeps the joints moving but does not cause too much damage. A long walk as a one off can cause a flare up and a return of the signs even with pain relief medication. 

●     Joint supplementsare designed to give your pet the ingredients they need to repair the damaged cartilage. You can get ones specifically designed for pets (just ask one of our vets for a recommendation) or you can buy generic glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega 3 fatty acid supplements. 

●     Weight lossis essential if your pet is overweight. Being overweight increases pressure on the joints and anything you can do to minimise this is helpful. Our vets or nurses are happy to help draw up a personalised diet plan to help your pet meet their ideal weight. 

●     Hydrotherapy or physiotherapy are very good for building up muscles and helping to stabilise joints. This reduces pain and helps your pet move better. 

●     Acupuncture is often used as a last resort to get pain under control but can make such a difference in pets with arthritis.

Things around the house: 

●     Ramps - wherever they would usually jump up you can have this as an alternative so they do not have to jump.

●     Thick beds(or rugs for large dogs) - this stops them from laying on the floor and makes their joints more comfortable when lyingdown. 

●     Cut out the side of your cat’s litter trayso they can get into it easily.

Here we do 6 monthly nurse clinicsfor pets with arthritis. We understand that living with your pet all the time means it can be difficult to see progress. This is a good way to check in, monitor progress and see if the pain medication needs to be changed. 

To summarise, arthritis is a painful joint condition that can happen in our older pets. The key things you can do to reduce the pain for your pet is bringing them to the vets for a thorough check over and pain relief, consistent exercise and regular check-ups to monitor progress. Hopefully, this is a useful insight into a common condition in our older pets but if you need any further advice, please call us.