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Arthritis in Dogs and Cats
As our pets age they may develop different problems with different body systems. One very common one is with the joints in arthritic conditions. Arthritis can be caused by infectious and inflammatory factors in younger patients, but here we are going to discuss the osteoarthritis that usually starts later in life. Of course, certain structural problems as hip dysplasia can bring it on at a younger age as well. Arthritis starts mainly due to damage to the cartilage of the joints and then can lead to bone formation that restricts movement or rubs and causes pain.
Don't be fooled if your pet is slowing down, eating less, or wanting less attention. As I tell my clients "Age is NOT a disease. Let's find the real thing happening to cause these symptoms."
So, what might you see in an arthritic dog or cat? Common signs are limping, not wanting to jump up into or onto things, trouble getting into the car, trouble with stairs and other such movement difficulties. Your pet may show outright signs of pain, especially if you extend or flex the affected joint, or push on the back if the problem is located there. Often dogs will have trouble standing up after sleeping and cats may too, or just may not move much at all. Along with that can be lack of activity in general, decreased appetite, and not wanting to be pet or given attention. You may see a joint that is swollen. Or your pet may lick at an area over and over as it is causing pain.
Diagnosis is based scientifically off of x-ray or MRI evidence of arthritis, but the above symptoms sure are a strong indicator that is what is going on. Of course, as in any older pet, a full blood panel should be done to rule out other diseases and to make sure the liver and kidney functions are fine if medications are indicated.
There are numerous things that can be done to help an arthritic pet. Making sure your dog or cat isn't overweight is important so they have less body load to carry on the sore joints. Mild exercise to keep the muscles strong, as long as it doesn't worsen the pain is a good idea. And physical therapy can help too, such as gently moving the limb through its natural motions multiple times each day. There are places that have water based physcial therapy as well-facilities that get the pet to move the legs under water. It is like swimming, but not exactly. Keeping the temperature warm is good too since arthritis symptoms can be worsened by cold and especially cold, damp weather.
Therapies that can help are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Rimadyl or Etogesic and others. These can cause serious digestive upsets or even ulcers so must be used with caution and only by prescription by your veterinarian. As a warning NEVER give any over the counter drugs to your pet for pain unless advised to do so by your veterinarian or give one pet's prescription to another. Tylenol (acetominophen-generic) is deadly to cats in any dose and in high enough doses to dogs as well!
Then there is one step up from that which is the steroid type drugs, such as prednisolone, dexamethasone, etc... These have even more potentially troublesome side effects and also must only be used if prescribed and your pet monitored. They have negative effects on the gut and liver and can cause diabetes if used too long or in too high a dose.
Both types of anti-inflammatories mention above do bring great relief to pets and sometimes are necessary. Often they may be used at the beginning of treatment to decrease inflammation and pain, then move on to safer alternatives. Some of the above used long term can actually damage the joint's cartilage more worsening the actual condition. So use them, BUT with caution and ONLY when your veterinarian says they are needed.
Acupuncture is a safe and very effective treatment for the signs of arthritis and I personally have even seen some radiographic changes for the better in joints after multiple treatments. To see if anyone near you performs this service, go here: The American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture
You can also relieve pain at home with techniques called assists described here: Assists For Illness and Injuries
In extreme cases, surgery may need to be performed to remove some of the damaged cartilage in the joint or what is called bone spurs of "joint mice" which are small pieces of broken off bone floating in the joint which cause pain.
Then we have supplements. These tend to be quite safe and have proven to be helpful in many cases. One of the best know is glucosamine. It has anti-inflammatory action, stimulates cartilage production which is needed for smooth joint movement, decreases pain and stiffness and slows down the enzymes that damage cartilage.
Chondriotin can be given as itself or as it is found in Sea Cucumber and Perna (the green-lipped mussel). It is anti-inflammatory and when given as Sea Cucmber or Perna has other minerals and nutrients that are helpful. Chondriotin also is a main component of cartilage and slows damage to it through its action on cells (chondrocytes) that can cause this.
Shark Cartilage can be used as well. It helps nourish and heal cartilage, decrease pain and blood vessel growth which can cause inflammation. It is needed in quite large doses though so isn't super practical.
Bovine cartilage is shown to repair joint damage and is especially good for spinal arthritis.
MSM helps to reduce pain and helps to strengthen the collegen (a main component of connective tissue) in the joints.