This summer has seemed a bit rough for my cat Butter. He's a great cat who has seen many a new pet enter my household over the last 12 years. I've noticed, however, in the last few months he has gotten a bit more rickety. He walks more stiffly than usual. He has undoubtedly succumbed to kitty osteoarthritis.
Degenerative joint disease or more commonly osteoarthritis is very common in older dogs and cats. Older dogs tend to be a bit overweight and sedentary. It's a rare dog I see that leads a very active lifestyle. Most are like my dogs: they'd much rather sleep the day away. Often they start to be a little stiffer than normal in the morning. Sometimes there is an injury which causes the joint to be affected. Most often this progresses to a stiff gait and muscle weakness.
Could your pet have arthritis? No one knows them better then you do so here are some questions to ask yourself. Does he hesitate before jumping onto the couch or into the car? Does your dog seem to lag behind when going for walks? Is he stiff or shaky when rising or walking? Does he limp after play or exercise? Does your dog have difficulty squatting when eliminating? If you answered yes to any of these, your pet may have arthritis and should be seen by your veterinarian.
What can be done? Let me tell you a little bit about what is going on first. The early stage of arthritis is caused by inflammation in the joint. There is damage to the cartilage which forms a cushion between the two bones. Most dogs respond to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs very well during this stage. During the early stage of osteoarthritis, this medication should be used short term to control pain and inflammation.
Much more important treatments include joint supplements, weight loss, and moderate exercise. Many dogs with early signs of arthritis are overweight. (Describe healthy weight here, e.g., ribs accessible to touch.) This accelerates the progression of the disease. Sometimes weight loss alone will greatly improve symptoms. A joint supplement must include glucosamine and chondroitin as well as omega 3 fatty acids. Other ingredients to look for include vitamin E, MSM and creatinin.
Exercise is very important for muscle tone and joint health. Joints feel better when they move. However, you should not allow your dog to have rigorous or uncontrolled exercise as that could make things worse.
Eventually the arthritic joint becomes very painful. The joint changes so much that it is stiff; there is excess bone and very little joint cartilage left. The muscles begin to atrophy or shrink from disuse which makes it even harder for them to exercise. This usually occurs with old age but can also happen in a younger dog that is overweight. At this point your dog will most likely need non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications daily as well as other medicines to control pain. There are also options that include laser treatments and acupuncture. Our goal is to keep your pet comfortable enough to continue exercising and having a good quality of life.
Cats also get arthritis. However, they hide their symptoms so well we often don't realize how severe it is. They typically have spine and elbow problems. Unfortunately there are no approved non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications that can be used long term. You can give joint supplements and if necessary some narcotic type medications. Never ever give Tylenol to a cat. They will die.
Remember: keep your dogs and cats thin, active and in shape. This can keep their joints healthy for longer periods. If they do injure themselves or start to be stiff or to limp, NEVER give them an over-the-counter medication or share your prescription medications with them. Don't let them suffer. Limping means pain and we don't want them to be in pain. Check with your veterinarian for advice. Hopefully, this makes arthritis and its treatment a little clearer for you.
Dolores Newman DVM, associate Veterinarian at Confederate Ridge Animal Hospital