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Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

            Senior pets often display signs of arthritis as reluctance to use stairs, difficulty rising from a sitting position, limping, stumbling or falling and, especially for cats, reluctance to jump up onto high places.  Up to 80% of dogs and 60% of cats over the age of 8 years of age display signs of arthritis.  Nine out of ten cats over the age of 12 have arthritis visible on x-ray.  Animals such as rabbits and ferrets may also develop arthritis. Let’s learn more about this condition and how to keep pets more comfortable in the golden years.

            Arthritis occurs when the cartilage in the joints begins to degrade or wear away.  Less cushioning between joints means bone contacting bone. Thickening and scarring of connective tissues in and around the joint cause decreased range of motion and lead to pain and inflammation.  These changes result from degradation as a result of age, but factors such as trauma, injury, congenital defects (such as hip or elbow dysplasia) or other medical conditions can contribute. 

            Recognizing the signs which may be subtle, especially in cats, is important.  As stated, walking more slowly and a reluctance to rise or jump up onto furniture often indicate arthritis pain. As the condition progresses, pets may display significant lameness or struggle to get up.  Rarely do pets cry or vocalize.  There is not a single type of treatment for arthritis. Multi-modal therapy is preferred meaning combining multiple drugs, supplements, and other strategies. 

            Joint and cartilage supplements:  Glucosamine supplements, omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids (fish oil), turmeric may be helpful. Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans such as Adequan brand which are injected into the body improve joint health and may slow progression of disease  The more advanced the disease, the less beneficial these treatments become.  CBD oils may have a place in reducing pain in pets, but more research and regulation is needed.

            Other modalities such as keeping pets at an optimum weight (the heavier they are, the harder it is on their joints), low impact activities such as swimming, orthopedic beds, and using yoga mats or other products to provide traction can be helpful in aiding senior pets in getting around.  Non-traditional therapies such as cold laser treatments, acupuncture and massage may also be useful.

            Medications for pain and inflammation such as NSAIDs (rimadyl, meloxicam, others) and other drugs for pain are often helpful in improving quality of life, especially as disease progresses.  A word of caution: never use over the counter human pain medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol which is extremely toxic to cats) in pets.  These drugs have a narrow safety margin in our pets and there are much safer choices. Talk to your vet before giving any medications to your pets. 

            New monthly injections for arthritis in both dogs and cats are now available. The drug Solensia for cats and a new drug called Librela for dogs both use a form of a protein called a monoclonal antibody which, when injected under the skin, targets another protein called NGF (nerve growth factor) blocking pain signals to the brain. These targeted therapies are safe and provide long term relief from arthritis without the need for daily medication but can still be combined with other treatments such as glucosamine.

            Arthritis affects many senior pets and can impact their mobility and quality of life. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep pets comfortable and moving well even as they age.  Ask our staff about which options may be right for your pets to help them age gracefully.

This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.