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Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

Detection of arthritis, and intervention may help slow the progression of disease, as well as relieve some of the clinical discomfort involved. Symptoms of arthritis are often overlooked, or mistaken for signs of age. In dogs, arthritis often forms as a result of developmental problems and conformation. This means that arthritis can start at a very young age compared to humans. In cats, it is very common by the age of 10 and the risk is significantly higher if they are overweight.

Here are some of the common signs that you can look for to determine if your pet might be
showing symptoms of arthritis:

  • becomes less active or reluctant to go on walks
  • walks stiffly or sorely or sways hips when walking
  • has difficulty getting up, or gets up slowly
  • struggles to jump onto the couch or get into the car
  • hesitates or refuses to climb stairs or go down stairs.
  • licks at joints
  • fails to sit squarely but sits back on tail or flops knees out to the side, or fails to sit at all and just goes directly into a laying position.

Pets don’t tend to show signs of chronic discomfort readily, and often continue to perform their daily routines despite it. For this reason, it is important to watch your pet carefully to pick up in notice any changes in their mobility. Together with your dog’s veterinarian you can come up with a plan involving some or all of the below treatments to help with your pet’s osteoarthritis. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.

When to treat?

We often feel reluctant to start medication for arthritis for fear of side effects of the medication.
However, it is important to understand the consequences of leaving chronic pain
untreated. Firstly, arthritis leads to inflammation, and inflammation leads to production of
destructive molecules (prostaglandins) and subsequent pain. Secondly, chronic pain has
been shown to lead to muscle degeneration and cognitive decline. Lastly, chronic pain
leads to sensitization of the central nervous system which then amplifies the pain and
creates resistance to treatment. In summary, early intervention and aggressive
treatment of arthritis can vastly improve your pet’s quality of life.

Treatment of Arthritis
  1. Weight Loss

Weight management in arthritic dogs and cats is extremely important. Joints that are already sore and stressed are made worse when they have to support extra weight. Numerous studies have been done that show reducing weight leads to significant improvement in quality of life. Talk to your veterinarian about an effective weight loss plan with a high-quality diet. 

  1. Therapeutic Exercise

Controlled exercise is invaluable in the treatment of patients with osteoarthritis. This helps improve function, strengthen muscles, reduce pain, and decrease the need for medication. This can be more challenging with cats.  It is important to start slow, and monitor for signs of pain after exercise.  Your veterinarian can help you get started with exercise recommendations. 

Rehabilitation specialists can provide important guidance in formulating an exercise and strengthening program that is safe and appropriate for your pet.  Your veterinarian can refer you to a rehabilitation facility nearby.

  1. Veterinary Diets

Several veterinary diets have been introduced to the market specifically for dogs with osteoarthritis. These diets contain very high therapeutic levels of omega fatty acids (EPA and/or DHA) and of other joint protectants such as glucosamine, chondroitin and/or green lipped mussel. Some dogs show improvement being these diets in as little as three weeks!

  1. Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown in studies to reduce inflammation in arthritic joints. They are considered a cornerstone in the treatment of arthritis. Most pets tolerate Omega-3 fatty acids well. Rarely, the high doses recommended for arthritis may cause soft stools.  Omega-3 fatty acids are available in capsules or liquids that can be pumped right onto the food.  It is important to use a good quality supplement as the molecule can easily be damaged by light or temperature. Omega-3 fatty acids derived from wild cold-water fish are recommended.  Ask your veterinarian for an appropriate dose as it may be higher than the label recommendations on the side of the supplement.  Veterinary arthritis diets contain therapeutic doses of omega 3 fatty acids so further supplementation is not needed. 

  1. Medications

Inflammation of the joint can actually lead to further destruction of the cartilage in the joint, therefore, anti-inflammatory medications can work to slow the progression of disease as well as ease discomfort.  

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are important in the treatment of osteoarthritis. They decrease inflammation and pain. This class of drugs is safe to use long term in most dogs, with periodic monitoring.   There have been some exciting new drugs to this class in veterinary medicine very recently with even higher safety ratings.  However, some aging dogs may have medical conditions that affect the management of osteoarthritis and the use of these drugs. A complete physical exam, and blood work are thus necessary prior to initiating NSAIDS along with periodic follow-up blood work as determined by your veterinarian.

Over the counter anti-inflammatories are not recommended for use in most dogs. Dogs and cats are more sensitive to their effects than humans and metabolize these drugs differently.  Their use is associated with higher risk of stomach irritation, stomach and intestinal ulcerations, liver disease and kidney disease.  

Other drug classes can be used in addition to NSAIDS for dogs in more discomfort, or instead of NSAIDS in dog’s that can’t take them. Your veterinarian can talk to you about these options. 

  1. Cartrophen (Pentosan Polysulfate Sodium)

Catrophen in an injectable medication that has been shown to reduce inflammation of the joint, improve blood supply to the joint, and provide protection to joint cartilage. It has been shown to be effective in up to 80% of pets that use it.  At the recommended doses, side effects are extremely rare.  It is given as a series of subcutaneous injections, weekly for 4 weeks, monthly for 4 months and then every 3-4 months thereafter in most dogs.  Results may take several weeks to show, especially in the treatment of more severe cases of arthritis.

  1. Slow-acting Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis agents

Nutraceuticals are nutritional supplements believed by many to have a positive influence on cartilage health by alternating cartilage repair and maintenance.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are often used.  They are reported to help improve cartilage metabolism. They may be more helpful in early osteoarthritis than in chronic, long-term osteoarthritis. Some people report great success by using them, others do not. Scientific evidence to support their use is lacking however. 

  1. Environment

There are many things you can do at home to help your pet with osteoarthritis. Keep him/her in a warm dry environment, away from cold and dampness. Use a soft, well-padded bed. Provide good footing to avoid slipping and falling. Carpet runners work well on hardwood floors. Minimize stair climbing and difficulty getting into cars by using ramps. You can purchase these from pet stores or make them yourself. Avoid overdoing activities on weekends and excessive play with other pets.

Encouraging Acceptable Clawing Behaviour in Cats

Declawing shouldn’t be the first strategy for solving a scratching problem. Give your cat a chance to learn and follow the rules, and you will likely be pleased with the results Scratching is a natural and satisfying behavior for cats. It provides a good stretch, marks territory and keeps the claws in good shape. If at all possible, we’d rather a cat be allowed to be a cat in all ways, and that includes enjoying the pleasures of scratching.
 
If you absolutely, positively have no tolerance for scratching, one great alternative to declawing is to adopt a cat who has already been declawed rather than taking home a kitten and having him declawed. If you already have a cat who’s driving you crazy clawing your couch, or if you have a new kitten that you want to train to leave your furniture alone, try the following approach: 

 

The best investment you can make for your pet’s enjoyment — and your furniture’s preservation — is a cat tree with a high perch for your pet to look down on the family. (Cats like being above it all!) Sisal, a natural rope like covering, is a good covering for cat trees, as is carpet with loops that aren’t too shaggy. If you’re even a little bit handy, you can make your own cat tree by using scrap lumber, sisal or carpet remnants.  You can make a cat tree even more appealing by playing games with your cat on the tree and by petting and praising him for scratching there. Some cats may enjoy having fresh catnip rubbed onto the cat tree as added enticement.  Try holding treats part way up the scratching surface to encourage scratching and stretching, or affixing appealing toys to it.

 

Cat trees aren’t the only options. Add other approved places for your cat to scratch, such as vertical or horizontal posts, scratching trays filled with corrugated cardboard or scratching pads hung from doorknobs.  Some cats prefer cardboard boxes, lumber or logs, or carpet or fabric remnants affixed to stationary objects.  Experiment to see what your cat likes best.
 
Once you have approved scratching areas in place, make the places your cat shouldn’t be clawing unattractive by putting double-sided patches or tape on the furniture. If the furniture fabric is too delicate, put the double-sided material on a piece of cardboard that wraps around the corner of the furniture. Never yell or punish your cat for scratching.   Cats hate to touch anything sticky, and so anything mounted sticky-side out will discourage scratching.
 
Start with your scratching alternative near the problem area. Your cat may shift his attention away from your furniture to the scratching post or tree. Offer praise and treats for good behavior.
 
Once your cat understands what the scratching post is for, you can slowly move it to the part of the room where you’d like it. Try to locate them near areas favored by cats, such as windows or sleeping areas since cats often stretch and scratch upon awakening.   Leave the sticky deterrent on the furniture during the retraining and be patient.
 
Keeping the sharp tips of claws blunt will also help to minimize damage from clawing. It’s best to start clipping nail tips when your cat’s a kitten, but most adult cats can learn to tolerate the procedure. Use a regular human nail-trimmer, or one from the pet store, and be patient as your cat learns to tolerate having the very tip nipped. Treats and praise are a must!

Feline Inappropriate Elimination

Despite the cat’s reputation for fastidious cleanliness, house soiling is the number one behavior problem of our feline friends. The four main causes are hormonal issues, medical problems, urine marking and litter box aversion.  Sometimes the difference between these is not clear cut. 

Hormonal:  **NEUTERING IS THE FIRST STEP IN ADDRESSING THIS PROBLEM.  HORMONAL MOTIVATIONS TO MARK TERRITORY
ARE POTENT AND MUST BE REMOVED FROM THE PICTURE.

Medical causes: Cats often urinate in unusual places when they are feeling unwell.

Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) involves straining to urinate, genital licking/discomfort, bloody urine, and often urinating in unusual places. There are many causes for this syndrome, including idiopathic cystitis, urinary tract infections, bladder crystals or stones, urinary blockages and urinary tract cancers. It may be hard to determine if a cat urinating outside the litter box has this syndrome and it is important to observe for the signs listed in addition to inappropriate urination. Cats with this syndrome often receive a medically oriented approach addressing inflammation in the bladder. Your veterinarian should evaluate your cat before you conclude that the problem is behavioral and you embark on a long-term behavioral approach.

Urine Marking:   Cats often urinate in unusual places in an effort to reassert their claim to territory.  This need often arises from stress.  Usually it results in fairly normal litter box use, coupled with strategic location of urine marks.  It is important to note that this stress may in turn, lead to a disease state described earlier called idiopathic cystitis or feline lower urinary tract disease, hence the importance of having your cat assessed by a veterinarian.

Cats use urination and defecation as a means of communication with other cats. By leaving their mark, they are telling other cats “I was here on this date at this time.” Other cats may then know this land has been claimed (or has not been recently claimed) and may act accordingly. Psychological stress, such as the presence of other cats (even outside the home), introduction of new pets or family members, renovations, prolonged absence of the owner, or other problems may create a need for a cat to reassert a territorial claim. Signs that this kind of stress is causing the problem might include some or all of the following:

  • Spraying on an upright surface.
  • Urinating in the litter box sometimes and sometimes urinating elsewhere (as opposed to never using the box at all).
  • Defecating in the cat box but urinating outside the box.
  • The cat (either male or female) is not neutered/spayed.
  • There has been a change at home leading the cat to feel he/she must reassert his/her territorial boundaries. (Examples: a new pet has been added, a new roommate has been added, a recent move to a new home has occurred, remodeling has been done, the owner recently returned from a vacation, other neighborhood cats are visible or can be smelled in the yard.)
  • The area marked is near a door or window.
  • The problem did not start until new furniture was added or the furniture was rearranged.
  • The cat appears to be responding to a punishment for another behavior.
  • The area marked involves the owner’s bed or laundry.
  • The area marked is the same each time.

If any of these scenarios seem to fit, it is important to attempt to identify and relieve the source of anxiety. Odor eliminators should be used in marked areas to discourage the cat’s tendency to return to these areas. If the problem persists despite these attempts, anti-anxiety medications may be tremendously helpful if the source of stress cannot be identified or cannot be altered.

Feliway Spray:  Recently a new alternative treatment has become available in the approach to territorial marking. The spray consists of feline pheromones of the type that cats deposit when performing facial marking (i.e., rubbing their face/cheeks on things to scent mark). These pheromones have a general calming effect that helps neutralize the urge to urine mark. The product is available through your veterinarian as a spray to apply to marked surfaces or as a plug-in diffuser that spreads pheromones through the room. If Feliway spray is used, it cannot be expected to work if it is casually used. It should be used twice daily for at least one month before determining if it is effective.

A recent study was conducted involving 57 households with urine spraying cats. These cats marked on either vertical surfaces only or a combination of vertical and horizontal surfaces. Feliway spray was used twice a day on the urine marked areas for a one-month period. In one-third of households, urine marking stopped completely. In 57% of the households, urine marking was reduced and in 9.3% of households marking was unchanged.
Hunthausen, W. Evaluating a feline facial pheromone analogue to control urine spraying. Veterinary Medicine, Feb 2000, p 151 – 155

Litter Box Aversion

Cats are fussy, that is the nature of the beast! Litter box aversion occurs when they find their facilities to be unattractive or, frankly, repugnant! The following are some clinical features of litter box aversion. 

  • Urination does not involve spraying vertical surfaces.
  • It may be urination, defecation or both outside the litter box.
  • Carpets and rugs are frequently targeted
  • Typically only two or three different locations are used. 
  • The litter box is used little, or not at all
  • It often occurs when two or more cats share a litter box (the current litter box recommendation is one box per cat plus one extra).
  • A new brand of litter is suddenly being used.
  • The box is covered. A covered bathroom area is highly unnatural for cats as they prefer better lighting for elimination and odors are concentrated in an enclosed area such as a covered box.
  • The box is not changed frequently.
  • The cat has had a negative experience in the box (the cat was captured from the box to receive medication or be disciplined).
  • The litter box is in a heavy household traffic area.
  • A puppy or dog (or even a small child) is bothering the cat in the box.
  • The litter box is located near a noisy appliance (such as a clothes dryer).

Some other clues to litter box aversion can be discovered by observing the cat using (or not using!) the litter box.  Does he spend any length of time in the litter box? Does he look uncomfortable spending any time in the box? Does he exit quickly after using it and then scratch on the walls or carpet outside the box? Does he hover over it and look tentative? Does he balance on the side of it and scratch in the litter? Does he put two feet into the box and then shy away?

Alternatively, normal litter box behavior  involves the cat approaching the box enthusiastically, jumping in willingly, investigating a good spot, digging a hole, turning around, eliminating, inspecting his handiwork, then covering up the mess and skipping away.

Sometimes the reason for litter box aversion is obvious, like a filthy box that is not scooped frequently, or having the box positioned hear a furnace or other noise.  Often, however, the reasons are more subtle: too few boxes in the house, undesirable location, undesirable litter type, litter too shallow, harsh cleaner used on the box, box too small, use of liners, hoods or even plastic underlay. 

Cats with this problem frequently require re-training to the box. As a first step, an additional box should be provided in a location separate from the original box. Many cats feel the box has been claimed by another household cat and are reluctant to use it or violate the other cat’s territory. Similarly, there may be some competition over the box between cats. It is recommended to have one more box than the number of cats in the house, or at least one box per floor in the house.

In a single cat home, the cat may have experienced something unpleasant in association with the current litter box (molestation by a child or dog, loud noise etc.) and needs a new “bathroom area.” It is important not to keep the cat’s food in a location near the box as the cat will not want to use the feeding area as a toilet. It should be positioned away from damp, cold or drafty areas, and away from scary noises such as the washing machine or furnace, preferably placed in a warm, quiet, comfortable environment.  If the cat seems to have arthritis issues, a more shallow litter container may be better so the cat will not have to do any climbing or high-stepping.

Obviously, any litter boxes should be scooped daily or even twice daily and kept as clean as possible. Clumping litter should be completely changed every 2-4 weeks and non-clumping litter should be changed twice weekly. The litter should be kept 4 inches deep.  The box should be washed with soapy water or water alone with no strong-smelling disinfectants that might be objectionable to the cat. 

Feliway, described earlier, can be used as a way to attract your cat to the litter box.   If the problem is difficulty in keeping the box clean, a self-cleaning box may be helpful.

The litter box length should be at least one and a half times the length of the cat (not including the tail) so that the cat will have adequate space to maneuver and cover his or her excrement.

As the next step, some other type of litter can be provided to see if the cat prefers a different brand or type. (Signs that the cat does not like the litter include: sitting on the plastic lip of the litter box to eliminate, failure to dig a hole in the litter, and/or shaking the litter off the paws after exiting the box.) If nothing seems to work, the cat should be confined in a small area, such as a large plastic carrier, with a litter box. The cat is gradually allowed more area after he/she has proven that he will use the box. (First, the carrier is the housing area, then a small room such as a bathroom or playpen is allowed, next a large room is added etc. until the cat again has his usual access.)

If the cat is repeatedly using the same area outside of the litter box to eliminate, we can try to discourage the use of that site. Repellant sprays such as Boundary can be used, as can a citrus scented air freshener, feeding meals on the target area or using a Ssscaat matt or compressed air spray. 

If these tips are not effective in restoring the cat’s proper toilet behaviors, medications for anxiety can be used. In some cases a behavior specialist can be called in. Please contact your veterinarian for further information. 

General Health Resources

Nutrition

Gateway Pet Hospital Canine Vaccination Protocol

How do vaccinations work?

Vaccinations contain very small amounts of virus or bacteria that have been modified so that they can not cause disease. They stimulate the body’s immune system to develop protection against that disease. If the body is later exposed to that disease, it will quickly be able to respond and destroy that disease-causing virus or bacteria.

How often are vaccines necessary?

Research is always ongoing to study duration of immunity to vaccinations.  Re-vaccination intervals are currently set to ensure that populations of pets remain protected against life threatening diseases. Blood tests called titres can be used to determine antibody levels in your pet and help guide vaccination intervals. However, titre levels do not always accurately reflect the pet’s immunity and can be expensive. Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s vaccine intervals. 

What vaccines are given to my dog?

Vaccinations are often written in a short form that uses 1 or 2 letters to represent one of the antigens. Below is a list of the most common canine vaccinations.

R – Rabies: 

Rabies is required by Law in Ontario, and proof of up-to-date Rabies vaccination is required for boarder crossings, dog licencing and most training, daycare, boarding or grooming facilities.

D – Distemper
A2 (H) – Adenovirus (Hepatitis)
P – Parainfluenza
P – Parvovirus

DA2PP are consider “Core” vaccines in all of North America, meaning they are recommended for ALL DOGS. 

L- Leptospirosis
Leptospirosis is recommended in locations where this bacteria exists. Leptospirosis is present in Kitchener/waterloo/Cambridge and is spread in the urine of skunks and racoons. It is a deadly disease, and so in our area, it is recommended that all dogs receive Leptospirosis vaccination. 

B -Bordetella (usually given Intranasally (IN) but can be given by injection if needed)
Often referred to as “kennel cough”, Bordetella is a Bacteria

Lyme – Lyme disease 

Puppies < 16 weeks of age:

DA2PPL every 4 weeks for a minimum of 2 vaccinations with the last vaccination given at or after 16 weeks of age (**Note this means some puppies may get a total of 4 shots if the first puppy shot is given at < 8 weeks of age). 

                        Typical vaccination protocol:                 
                                    8 weeks: DA2PP
                                    12 weeks: DA2PPL +/- Bord Intranasal
                                    16 weeks: DA2PPL + Rabies;

Note that very small puppies (< 2 kg) or dogs with known sensitives to vaccination may have an altered vaccine protocol that “splits out” the leptospirosis vaccination and the Rabies vaccination (i.e they are typically given 3 weeks later) to reduce the risk of reactions.

If 16-18 weeks at the time of presentation, DA2PP + L will still be boostered once.

Puppies/Dogs >/= 18 weeks of age: 
DA2PP and Rabies only require 1 injection, but lepto must be boostered 2-4 weeks later. 

                         Typical Protocol:
                                    Initial:  DA2PPL + Rabies +/- Bordetella IN with doctor.
                                    Booster 3-4 weeks later:  lepto with technician 

1 year booster

Regardless of age, all INITIAL vaccination series must be followed by a booster 1 year later

                                                Typical Protocol:
                                                            DA2PPL + Rabies +/- Bordetella 

Dogs > 2 years of age (1 year after the 1 year booster)
Lepto and Bordetella are done yearly. 
DA2PP and Rabies are given every 3rd year. 

 

For more, click here.

Gateway Pet Hospital Feline Vaccination Protocol

How do vaccinations work?

Vaccinations contain very small amounts of virus or bacteria that have been modified so that they can not cause disease. They stimulate the body’s immune system to develop protection against that disease. If the body is later exposed to that disease, it will quickly be able to respond and destroy that disease-causing virus or bacteria.

How often are vaccines necessary?

Research is always ongoing to study duration of immunity to vaccinations.  Re-vaccination intervals are currently set to ensure that populations of pets remain protected against life threatening diseases. Blood tests called titres can be used to determine antibody levels in your pet and help guide vaccination intervals. However, titre levels do not always accurately reflect the pet’s immunity and can be expensive. Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s vaccine intervals. 

What vaccines are given to my cat?

Vaccinations are often written in a short form that uses 1 or 2 letters to represent one of the antigens. Below is a list of the most common canine vaccinations.

R (or FVP) – Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis
C – Calicivirus
P – Parinfluenza virus
R – Rabies

Rabies is required by Law in Ontario, and proof of up-to-date Rabies vaccination is require for boarder crossings, dog licencing and most training, daycare, boarding or grooming facilities.

FeLeuk– Feline leukemia virus

Vaccination against feline leukemia is recommended for all cats that spend time outdoors. It is spread by contact with other cats.

Specific Feline Protocols

Kittens < 20 weeks of age:

-FVRCP starting at 6-8 weeks and repeating every 4 weeks for a minimum of 2 doses until 16-20 weeks of age. 

                                    Typical vaccination protocol:                 
8 weeks: FVRCP                                    
            12 weeks: FVRCP +/- Feleuk
            16 weeks: FVRCP + Rabies +/- Feleuk  

Kittens/Cats >/= 20 weeks of age that have not had an initial kitten series: 
-RCP +/- Feleuk given as 2 doses, 3-4 weeks apart.
-Purevax Rabies 1 year vaccine

                                    Typical Protocol
                                                Initial: FVRCP + Purevax Rabies 1 year +/- Feleuk
                                                Booster 3-4 weeks later: FVRCP +/- Feleuk

1 year booster
Regardless of age, all INITIAL vaccination series must be followed by a booster 1 year later

                                                            Typical Protocol
                                                            FVRCP + Purevax Rabies (1 year or 3 year) +/- Feleuk

> 2 years of age (1 year after the 1 year booster)
-FVRCP every 3 years.
-Rabies either every 1 year or every 3 years depending or product given
Feleuk yearly.

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