Arthritis is extremely common in older pets, especially the larger breeds. It can affect any joint, but the hips, shoulders and back are most common. Other conditions with similar signs are common as well. These diseases are often progressive, becoming worse over time – sometimes quickly but usually slowly and gradually. They may start as intermittent, occasional sore days, in very cold weather or with strenuous exercise. As they progress, the lameness and stiffness become more frequent. They are usually worse when your pet first gets up after lying down and gets better as he/she moves around. Other symptoms include decreased activity; reluctance to walk, climb stairs or jump or play; limping; difficulty rising from a resting position; lagging behind on walks; soreness when touched; yelping or whimpering in pain; acting aggressive or withdrawn or other personality changes.
There are several other diseases and conditions that cause symptoms similar to arthritis, including intervertebral disc disease, spondylosis, ligament tears, and discspondylitis. It is important to have x-rays done to be sure arthritis is really the problem. Other diseases require different treatment than arthritis. Discspondylitis, an infection of the bones of the spine, progresses quickly, causing irreversible damage in a short period of time. Early diagnosis is important if proper treatment is to be effective. If your dog hurts, we need to find out what’s wrong as soon as possible. Animals don’t moan, whimper or stop eating until the pain is intolerable. There is no need for your pet to suffer from untreated arthritis or other conditions. Pain medications can be prescribed to keep your pet comfortable. Some of the medications used for arthritis and other diseases are lifelong, especially the anti-inflammatory ones. Since these drugs can cause side effects, and since your pet will be on them for a long time, it is important for your pet to have regular examinations and blood test to monitor for side effects, especially with liver and kidney function. Usually, annual blood screening is recommended.
Arthritic dogs need regular, gentle exercise. Short walks are best. Over-exertion, as with fetching, frisbee tossing or running, tends to aggravate arthritis. But, slow walking or swimming is very beneficial. Two 15-minute sessions is generally better than one 30-minute one. Do not over-do on cold or hot days, as older pets are less tolerant of temperature extremes. Heart or respiratory disease and obesity decrease exercise tolerance. If your pet wants to stop, don’t force him/her to keep going. If your pet is a hunting dog, you may have to force him/her to stop , if he tries so hard he endangers his health. Some older pets are like older people – they don’t want to admit they can’t do the things they did in their youth. To control obesity, ask us for specific feeding recommendations. Older, inactive pets may only need half the calories they did when they were younger. Feeding appropriately and reducing weight increases activity. More exercise, combined with less weight to carry around, can reduce arthritis symptoms dramatically.
Arthritic pets are most stiff when they lay around, especially on cold surfaces. Encourage your pet to sleep on a bed or blanket and not on the cold, hard floor or ground. Pet-sized water beds are available through pet supply catalogs or larger pet stores. These can be extremely beneficial to stiff, sore pets. Arthritis gradually worsens with time. Other diseases may progress at varying speeds and more then one may present at a time. Your pet’s activity level and medications will need to be adjusted as the months pass. Keep in close contact with us so we can keep your pet as healthy and pain-free as possible.