As our pets age, we need to provide them with additional love and support. This month we focus upon helping pets with arthritis.

What is Arthritis?
To begin, arthritis is the inflammation of the joints that is often manifested in decreased mobility due to pain, discomfort and stiffness. Over time, the joint cartilage (the cushion between the bones) and associated fluid that enables bones to easily glide across each other becomes damaged or less flexible allowing bone surfaces to rub together.  The resulting bone growth produces added stiffness and reduced movement and flexibility.



What Causes Arthritis?
Arthritis can occur in pets of any age. However, it is most commonly associated with older pets, pets with joint-related injuries, or genetic ailments.

Older pets can be impacted given their life-long activity (stresses and bruises from jumping and playing), the natural depletion of cartilage fluid, and historical bone trauma. However, joint issues that lead to bone misalignment can occur at virtually any age, including ligament damage and broken bones. And some breeds are pre-disposed to hip, disc, and knee genetic ailments that can accelerate the onset of arthritis.


How can I tell if my Pet has Arthritis?
Pets that are slow or have difficulty getting to their feet, particularly after a long rest or sleep, can be an indication they may have arthritis. Pet’s with arthritis often exhibit added flexibility and reduced pain with exercise or during warmer, less damp days. Due to the stiffness and pain associated with joint movement, a pet owner’s first indication of arthritis is your pet’s sense of discomfort when they first attempt to move.


Golden Retreiver

To diagnose your pet and determine the best course of treatment, we will start with a specific set of joint motions can help indicate the onset of arthritis. An x-ray of the joint is an important diagnostic tool to reveal any cartilage or bone damage—with a series of x-rays conducted over time showing any progression. Additionally, a sample of the cartilage fluid or blood test can include or exclude other potential afflictions.


How can I help my Pet?
Managing your pet’s weight and activity levels are easy first-line defenses. Because added weight produces undue compression on joints, managing their weight will not only have other positive health benefits, it will also reduce the pain associated with joint stress. And with older pets or those with joint conditions, knowing when to curtail their play time activities is essential. Activity that exercises their cardiovascular and respiratory systems is great, but remember to “leave some for tomorrow.”


Dog Playing

Pet owners can also make environmental changes by installing carpet on slippery surfaces, particularly large expanses of tile or hardwood floor, and on stair treds. Carpeting will enable your pet to walk more securely and prevent the pain and inury associated with uncontrolled movements. Also, consider lifting your pet down to the floor, or installing ramps to prevent the impact of jumping.


How can Arthritis be Treated?
To address an acute issue, the use of prescribed anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce any swelling along with prescribed pain medications to increase your pet’s comfort level. When using medications, it’s vital that your pet not over-exert or injure themselves. Never, under any circumstance, give your pet medications intended for humans as our chemistries are different. And depending upon your pet’s specific situation, they may also be prescribed medications to help promote joint repair, protect against cartilage damage, and reduce cartilage degeneration.

Today, there are also many dietary supplements that contain chondroitin and glucosamine which tend to promote good joint health and repair. While many of these supplements are widely available and heavily advertised, please contact us prior to providing either of these to your pet; the form, dosage and potential side effects should be discussed.

And lastly, medications may be prescribed on an ongoing, long-term basis to help control inflammation and pain. These non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can be quite effective, but also possess some side effects over the longer-term.

In extreme cases, some pets may require surgery to correct bone alignments, joint structures and to repair trauma.


Questions? Contact Us
Unfortunately, once the cartilage in your pet’s joint has been damaged, it rarely fully repairs itself.

So, for pets (as with people) living with arthritis requires finding the proper balance between diet, weight, activity and medication. Despite your pet’s age, we can help you find the balance for your pet enabling them to lead a full and active life. As always, we’re here for you and your pets!


Kirkwood Veterinarians