Age is not a disease – But Arthritis is!
"He’s slowing down”, or "Her age is catching up with her”, are common exam room comments from owners during routine annual appointments. However, the truth is that age does not cause mobility issues – arthritis does!
Of course, there are other reasons your senior pet could be having more trouble moving around – injury, muscle weakness (caused by anther disease process), or some forms of cancer, among others – but the most common mobility concern we see in older cats and dogs, is osteoarthritis. In one study, 90% of cats over the age of 12 had signs of joint disease!
Pets (especially cats) don’t like to show weakness; they will soldier on without complaint for a long time, making the signs of arthritis often subtle and hard to miss. My own dog, Matti, (a rescued hound mix) began limping one day after playing with her younger "brother” in the yard. When the limp didn’t improve, x-rays revealed that she had osteoarthritis in both elbow joints. It wasn’t until we started treating her for arthritis that I realised she had become quieter and had been sleeping more than usual – suddenly she was her mischievous self again, getting into things and eating dirty laundry (her favourite and most dangerous hobby)! The changes had been so subtle and gradual, that I hadn’t even noticed they were occurring.
Some of the most common signs of arthritis are:
- Lagging behind, or slowed pace on walks
- Decreased interest in play or walks
- Intermittent limping or changes in gait
- Difficulty jumping onto furniture or into car
- Reluctance to go up or down stairs
- Stiffness, especially after resting
- Licking or chewing at one or more joints
- Withdrawal or increased time spent sleeping
- Other changes in behaviour, including irritability or grumpiness
- In cats, decreased grooming, leading to matted or unkempt appearance, or urinating/defecating outside of the litterbox
There is no cure for osteoarthritis; but, there are lots of things we can do to help our pets feel more comfortable and slow the disease progression:
- While it is NOT advisable to use over-the-counter pain relievers such as Aspirin, Advil or Tylenol in pets, as these can lead to life-threateningconsequences (NEVER give your pet human medication without consulting a veterinarian), there are a number of veterinary-approved medications available that can give your pet relief from arthritis pain.
- Diet changes can be recommended to help your pet shed any excess weight that may be putting extra strain on joints.
- Supplements, such as glucosamines and omega fatty acids can be added to support cartilage and joint function. There are even veterinary diets that are specifically formulated to support arthritic joints!
- Cartrophen injections can be administered to inhibit break-down and stimulate production of cartilage and lubricants in the joints.
An individual treatment plan is made for each pet depending on their temperament (are you able to give daily medication?), and health status (some medications are not recommended if your pet has kidney or liver disease). The treatments that work best for your cousin’s dog, may not be the most effective treatments for your dog. As your pet continues to age, adjustments may need to be made.
In the 4 ½ years since Matti’s diagnosis, several adjustments have been made to her treatments. She still wakes up a bit stiff on cold, damp days, she doesn’t go for long walks anymore, and she may limp a bit after over-doing it (aka jumping off the high bed in the guest room). She has warm comfy beds in nearly every room of the house and loves getting her pills (she thinks they are treats!) at bed-time. The "battle” with her arthritis is on-going, and it will never go away, but she is happy – and that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?