Did you know that September was Arthritis Awareness Month in Canada? Whatever time of the year it is, it’s never too late to discuss arthritis, a disease that affects more and more people. Indeed, it’s estimated that arthritis will touch one in five Canadians by 2036. Yet pets are also affected by arthritis.
No matter how old your pet is, you should prepare for the effects of aging. Arthritis is one of the most common effects of aging among animals. In this article, we will present the signs to watch for, but also provide tips for reducing your pet’s arthritic pain.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is the set of chronic degenerative diseases that affect the joints, be it osteoarthritis or gout. For pets, arthritis mainly affects the hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, ankles and spinal column.
Arthritis occurs when the cartilage has deteriorated, which it does in various ways. Recall that cartilage is a conjunctive tissue that you find on joints between the bones, but also in the ear, the nose, or intervertebral disks. It allows the bones to move without friction, while preventing them from fusing together. However, when the cartilage is damaged, it leads to an inflammatory reaction of the joints, which in turn leads to more destruction of cartilage, but also damages the underlying bone.
Did you know?
Arthritis can also be caught from a virus or bacteria. For example, hens can suffer a viral arthritis, or avian revirus, due to a virus transmitted through droppings. There is no treatment for viral arthritis, but it is possible to protect breeders and chicks through vaccination.
What Factors are Associated with Arthritis?
Age is the primary factor associated with arthritis. Older animals have a higher chance of having arthritis, since the older one gets, the more the joint cartilage is worn down. However, young animals can suffer arthritis as well.
Another factor to watch for is your pet’s weight. If your pet is carrying excess weight, this will exert additional stress on its joints, thus speeding up cartilage deterioration.
Although beneficial, exercise can be harmful when it is excessive. In the case of horses, excess work or lack of preparation before an exertion can increase the incidence of physical injuries.
An accident or trauma can also influence the onset of arthritis in animals. For example, a dislocation of the kneecap can cause abnormal joint conformation, which impacts the animal’s mobility.
Finally, congenital or hereditary malformations that occur in some animal breeds can lead to the development of joint stiffness later on.
Did you know?
Some breeds are more likely to develop arthritis than others. Among dogs, the Labrador, German Shepherd, and Berneses Mountain Dog are breeds to watch carefully due to their greater vulnerability to hip dysplasia. This anomaly also affects Persian and Siamese cats. However, breeders of these animals are striving to limit the occurence of these hereditary malformations by excluding stricken animals from reproduction.
What Are the Signs to Watch For?
It is difficult to recognize signs of arthritis in animals, as they are often mistakenly associated with the effects of aging. Also, because animals are very resistant to pain, they show few outward signs. That is why it takes a substantial period of observation to identify the signs that your pet may be suffering from arthritis:
- Less enthusiasm for the daily walk
- Walking more slowly
- Becoming tired more easily
- Not running for the ball anymore
- Stiffness felt in the paws
- Preferring to lie down rather than to stand or sit
- Having difficulty getting up
- Limping while moving about or having an altered gait
- Having difficulty climbing stairs
- Having difficulty jumping into the car or onto the sofa or bed.
- Not jumping any more
- Less appetite
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Suffering from constipation
- Staying away from members of the family
- Running away when about to be brushed
- Having an aggressive behaviour when touched
If your pet is showing several of these signs, it’s recommended that you see a veterinarian, who could then confirm that it is arthritis or another health problem, like a ruptured cruciate knee ligament or an auto-immune disease.
Your Pet Is Suffering from Arthritis: What can you do?
When your pet is already experiencing joint pain, it is unfortunately too late. However, you can slow down cartilage deterioration, as well as relieve the pain. Here are a few tips for improving your pet’s quality of life.
Tip 1: Maintain Optimal Weight
As we’ve pointed out above, excess weight can place additional stress on your pet’s joints. Your priority will then be to reduce obesity. To do this, it is important to respect the recommended daily portions of food—and also to go easy on the treats. Don’t hesitate to seek additional advice on weight loss and on helping your pet maintain a healthy weight.
Tip 2: Exercise
The tip here isn’t to push your dog or your cat to the point of exhaustion. Rather, we suggest instilling the practice of moderate exercise, that is, sufficient to burn energy without damaging the joints. Swimming is the ultimate exercise, because it puts the whole body to work while reducing stress on the joints. If your pet can’t swim, it can still benefit from simply walking in shallow water. Walks on a leash or controlled running are also acceptable forms of exercise.
Did you know?
If your dog can’t swim, there are flotation jackets of different sizes designed specifically for dogs. This kind of jacket will help your pet stay on the surface of the water while maintaining a comfortable position for swimming. These jackets are also recommended when your dog accompanies you on aquatic activities, like surfing or boating. In fact, even if your pet knows how to swim, a bad fall in the water can lead to drowning. With a flotation jacket, however, it would be easy to pull your pet up to safety by the handle or strap on its back.
Tip 3: Provide a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet does more than maintain optimal weight for your pet. It also provides essential nutrients. Before choosing the dry food, pay attention both to the list of ingredients and to the nutritional values.
Did you know?
Glucosamine is produced naturally by the organism, and one of its functions is to attenuate the destruction of certain molecules of cartilage. It can be given as a preventive measure to aging animals, but is beneficial in other cases as well, such as hip dysplasia or after joint or bone surgery. It can also be found in the ingredients of some dry food designed to promote joint health.
Tip 4: Provide supplements
If you’re considering boosting your pet’s diet, supplements may be an ideal solution. In powdered form, moreover, supplements are easily administered by mixing them with the pet food. Whether for your dog or your cat, it’s possible to choose a formula specifically adapted to animals that show signs of aging. But supplements that facilitate quick recovery after an exertion can also prevent joint pain in pets that are young and active.
Did you know?
Hyaluronic acid, which is found naturally in our tissues, has several anti-aging functions. In addition to moisturizing the skin and its dermal layers, this type of acid lubricates and softens the joints. Used in cosmetics, among other products, to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, hyaluronic acid can also be found in anti-aging supplements for pets.
Tip 5: Combine different active ingredients
In optimizing your pet’s health, it is important to keep in mind that there isn’t a single solution. In fact, it’s rather a question of assembling an array of solutions to improve several aspects of your pet’s life. For example, chondroitin sulfate is a component in the cartilage matrix and insures its flexibility and elasticity. When this is combined with glucosamine, the two active ingredients complement each other and contribute to enhanced long-term benefits. Look for supplements that bring together glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, but also methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and hyaluronic acid.
Is there any treatment for arthritis?
As we’ve mentioned earlier, it is impossible to cure arthritis, since the joint pains often mean that cartilage deterioration has already begun. Yet, thanks to technological advances, one can turn to various types of treatment to reduce a dog or cat’s arthritic pain.
Laser therapy consists of using infrared light on your pet’s body. Apart from having an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect, laser treatment also promotes the production of collagen, an essential element for joint health. This treatment can also be used to facilitate healing after surgery.
Physiotherapy, or physical rehabilitation, gently moves your pet’s joints. After a first evaluation, the person in charge of the treatment will propose various solutions adapted to the needs of your pet. For example, hydrotherapy enables the execution of exercises in a controlled aquatic environment, be it a pool or on a treadmill fitted into a bathtub.
Considered an alternative medicine, acupuncture can supplement traditional medicine. Using needles, acupuncture touches specific points in order to improve your pet’s health or relieve its pain. This method may be considered if your pet suffers serious side-effects from medication or if it cannot undergo surgery for some reason.
As you can see, there are several ways of relieving the arthritic pain of your dog, cat, or other pet. Above all, make sure you spend quality time with your companion and take advantage of the precious moments you have together.