Arthritis In Dogs And Cats
Translated to plain English the term ‘’arthritis’’ simply means joint inflammation. It is used to describe a variety of painful conditions that can develop in any joint, in dogs/cats of any age and is accompanied by pain, swelling and stiffness. Arthritis occurs in both dogs and cats but it is more common in dogs. The terms arthritis, osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease, are often used interchangeably.
In a normal dog/cat, each joint is covered by cartilage that acts as a buffer between two bony surfaces. The cartilage creates a "cushion" between the bones that form the joint. If the cartilage is damaged, an unleashed cascade of events leads to rubbing of the two bony surfaces, inflammation and eventually arthritis. In a nutshell, arthritis is a result of chronic, low-grade irritation/inflammation. The cartilage destruction can be caused by joint instability, ligament injury, trauma, degenerative changes, infections (bacterial or fungal arthritis), metabolic disturbances or as a result of a immune mediated disease (rheuma). Most arthritis cases are simply due to aging. The most common type of acquired arthritis in dogs and cats, the osteoarthritis, is caused by joint or ligament injury.
Do not be scared by the arthritis definition and mechanism. Despite its relatively high incidence, arthritis is not fatal and with appropriate treatment and simple changes to your baby’s environment, it can be successfully managed.
Essentially, arthritis causes pain and all following symptoms result from that pain. Each dog/cat reacts to pain in a different manner. Since the first step in diagnosing arthritis is recognizing the symptoms at home, it is of imperative importance to know what to look for.
The first sign of arthritis in dogs is altered gait. Joint pain is of dull aching type and even if the dog is experiencing severe pain he won’t vocalize or cry. However, some dogs will lick or bite the painful area. Generally, arthritic dogs show several signs, such as:
- Difficulty getting up and down
- Walking stiffly
- Lameness in one or more legs
- Crepitus or grating sound in the joint, when in motion
- Reluctance to go up and down stairs
- Reluctance to jump (onto/off furniture or into/out of a vehicle)
- Stiff, swollen or sore joints
- Reluctance to be touched on some parts of the body
- Loss of stamina
- Unexpected aggression towards other dogs or humans
- Decreased appetite.
Signs of feline arthritis are often subtle and difficult to spot, because cats are more resilient and tend to hide their symptoms better. Some cats will show difficulties finding a comfortable place to rest and a comfortable sleeping position. Other cats show decreased appetite and weight loss. Arthritis induced lameness may be present but in most cases it is impossible to notice. Generally arthritic cats show behavioral changes that can be categorized in four groups:
- Changes in mood (irritability when handled, increased aggression, biting and avoiding contact with people or other animals)
- Reduced activity (increased time sleeping, hesitance to playing, going out and exploring)
- Reduced mobility (hesitance to jumping or making smaller jumps, difficulty climbing the stairs, getting into the litter or using the cat flap and stiffness)
- Changes in hygiene habits (reduced grooming, matted and scruffy coat, inappropriate urination or not using the litter box if it has higher sides).
The most effective way of preventing arthritis is allowing your fur baby to grow slowly and maintaining a lean body condition throughout growth and into adulthood, by using species-appropriate and nutritionally balanced diet and providing regular exercises. With that said the odds of preventing or at least delaying the signs of arthritis are excellent. Genetic abnormalities, injuries and geriatric changes cannot always be predicted. Therefore even the best efforts may not be enough to ward off arthritis, especially in older dogs/cats.
The arthritis management is usually multimodal and requires a combination of medication and complementary approaches, such as physiotherapy, diet and weight management. Common general treatment options include:
- Prescription pain medications – the cornerstone of arthritic pain management are the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as meloxicame
- Possible use of nutritional supplements to help replenish cartilage (glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate)
- Weight loss regimen if necessary, since obesity aggravates the symptoms
- Special diet – with high amounts of antioxidant rich foods (phytoplankton, astaxanthin, turmeric, wild berries, herbs such as oregano, basil, cinnamon, parsley, cumin and ginger)
- Physical therapy and working with a canine physical therapist (swimming pool, stretching and strengthening exercises, underwater treadmill, chiropractic care, cold laser and electromagnetic stimulation)
- A low-stress environment, plenty of affection, and supportive care can help improve any dog’s/cat’s quality of life.
There are several steps any dog/cat parent should follow, in order to improve his arthritic baby’s comfort and mobility. These include:
- Soft, padded bedding with cozy blankets or orthopedic bed with built in magnets, which will alleviate pressure points
- Raised food and water dishes (elbow height) and keeping a second bowl of water in a separate place
- Non-skid floor surfaces
- A ramp for entering and leaving a vehicle
- Groom and massage difficult to reach parts of the body
- Applying warm compresses which soothe the affected joints
- Adhering to prescribed feeding and medication recommendations
All in all, arthritis is a progressive condition, which means it will continue to worsen if not properly managed. Once signs of arthritis show, the condition’s progression can be slowed down but not reversed. Most dogs/cats respond well to the treatment and live comfortably, but will need to be on medications for the rest of their lives. Every dog/cat requires a specific, tailored treatment plan, which needs to be elaborately discussed with your vet.