Has your beloved pet been getting lazier, slower in getting up in the mornings, acting slightly withdrawn and grumpy and not as interactive with the family as before?
Many of you may think that your pet is getting old but there is no such disease as old age. Your pet may have osteoarthritis! And yes, animals can get arthritis/osteoarthritis just like us and unfortunately arthritis is one of the main causes of reduced quality of life.
So, what is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a persistent and progressive disease that affects any joint in the body. Common joints that are affected in a pet are hips, elbows, stifle (knee), carpus (wrist), hock (ankle) or intervertebral joints (the spine). It occurs when cartilage in the joint is damaged, either following a traumatic event, surgery or with wear and tear that increases in athletic animals, overweight animals or when the joint is congenitally abnormal ie hip dysplasia, luxating patellas (knee caps).
Cartilage is like a gelatinous shock absorber in the joint, absorbing stress and reducing impact on the ends of the bones in joints. When the cartilage is damaged, a cascade of inflammatory changes occurs which then lead to further destruction of the cartilage and subsequent damage to the underlying bone. This is how osteoarthritis happens.
It is also important to note that cartilage contains no nerves. Therefore if your pet is showing any signs of pain or discomfort, damage in the underlying bone may already have begun.
Signs of osteoarthritis may be subtle and very easy to miss especially in cats. Here are a few examples of signs of osteoarthritis that you may notice in your pets.
- Stiffness that may disappear once the pet has ‘warmed up’.
- Difficulties climbing stairs, cat tree, climbing in the car or onto the bed or sofa.
- Difficulties rising from rest
- Reluctance to take walks of the usual length
- Licking at a single joint
- Abnormal gait
- Acting withdrawn and spending less time interacting with the family
- Soreness when touched
- And rarely, aggression when touched or approached.
So now the most important part, what can you do to help your furry family member/s?
- Weight reduction:
Extra weight is definitely one of the exacerbating factors to increase pain in arthritic animals. Not too sure if your pet is overweight or not? Please feel free to have a chat with our friendly staff and we will be able to help you and let you know your pet’s body condition score (BCS). Your pet should be less than 3/5 BCS ideally. If your pet is more than a BCS of 3, it is time to get on the weight loss program and go on a diet.
We recommend that overweight animals be placed on a prescription diet known as Hill’s r/d®. This diet contains a unique combination of lysine, carnitine and soluble fiber that modifies metabolism from fat storing to fat burning. It also contains a high level of natural fiber which helps to satisfy your pets’ hunger while losing weight.
This will not be an easy journey but it will definitely be a rewarding one. Even a loss of 500g will be significant in an overweight animal, so don’t be discouraged. Please ask us about our few successful ‘biggest losers’ for some inspiration!
- Low-impact exercise:
Swimming or walking in shallow waters would be the best. This is probably not ideal in cold winter weather, but a slow jog or walk on a leash is acceptable as well.
There is also the option of seeking further advice from a veterinary physiotherapist. There are underwater treadmills and indoor heated swimming pools for animals.
- Injectable Chondroprotective agent (Cartrophen Vet injections)
Cartrophen Vet helps retard the progression of arthritis by stimulating the production of lubricant and cartilage molecules by joint cells. Cartrophen also improves circulation to the arthritic tissues, stimulates production of proteins that block damaging free radicals and antigens while inhibiting enzymes that break down cartilage cells.
8/10 pets respond quickly to the initial course of the injections with an increase in activity and well being.
The injections are given weekly for the initial course and a 3 monthly booster is recommended for best efficacy. Please consult one of our veterinarians to tailor this program for your furry friend.
- Prescription medications (anti-inflammatory and pain relief)
Most pets suffering from arthritis need pain relief now. Your pet may need NSAIDS, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These medications act quickly by suppressing the inflammatory biochemical that leads not only to the pain of arthritis but also further cartilage damage. NSAIDS can carry potential side effects when used long term. These side effects can be minimalized by regular blood and urine test. Please bring in a urine sample from your pet when you visit us.
Please note that human NSAIDS tend to be toxic to pets, especially cats. Never use a human medication of any kind in a pet without specific advice from your veterinarian.
There are a couple of nutritional supplements that can be added in your pets’ daily diet that may have beneficial effects for their arthritis. Such as:
i) Glucosamine and chondroitin
These products are cartilage components harvested mainly from sea molluscs. By taking these pills or powder orally, the pet is able to have plenty of the necessary building blocks needed to repair damaged cartilage. However, these products do not produce rapid results and results may vary between individuals; one or two months are needed to build up to adequate amounts. Examples of products available in our clinic are: Rejuvinate Powder and Sasha’s Blend.
ii) Omega 3 fatty acids
Cold water fish oils have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. They are primarily used for the treatment of itchy skin, but many arthritic dogs and cats have also benefited from supplementation.
This product also does not produce rapid results and may take up to a month to build to adequate amounts.
Flax seed oil has been known to contain omega 3 fatty acids in humans, but it is not as readily converted in dogs and cats as compared to humans. Therefore fish oil is a better option compared to flax seed oil.
There are no toxic issues to be concerned with giving fish oil, but please seek veterinarian advice prior to starting any supplementation. The general rule of thumb for fish oil supplementation is 1000IU per 5kg body weight in dogs and cats. (This dosage may change depending on your pets’ diet)
- Acupuncture and massage
These are alternative treatments that will provide additional non-drug pain relief to your furry friends as well. Efficacy and onset of treatment may vary depending on the severity of your pet’s osteoarthritis but it is definitely an additional treatment for your arthritic furry friend if you’re worried about potential long term side effect of medications.
Please feel free to enquire further with one of our veterinarians.
There is a lot we can do for our arthritic friends during this cold winter period. Feel free to drop into the clinic and we can discuss any further enquiries you have to help improve their quality of life!
By Dr Yuen Jia Lim BVSc