Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pets and arthritis - how to make them comfortable

This time of year is not good for arthritis sufferers. The cold, wet weather makes joints ache. The weather induced lack of exercise leads to stiffness as well as weight gain. This happens with people as well as the pets we love. But how can you tell if your pet suffers from arthritis, and what can be done to make them more comfortable?

For starters, watch your pet. Does your dog have a hard time getting up when he's been laying down? Does your cat take a few seconds to jump up on a chair when before she'd just leap up? Do you just think your older pet is slowing down from age? These can all be signs of arthritis. Animals often don't act painful until they've had arthritis for some time. It's up to you and your vet to determine if your pet suffers from arthritis.

Next - DO NOT GIVE THEM PEOPLE MEDICINE! Dogs and cats process medicine very differently than humans. The pain medicine that people use can cause ulcers and bleeding disorders in animals. Billions of dollars have been spent researching how pets tolerate different medications, and there are special arthritis medicines just for them. These medicines cannot be mixed either. If a dog needs to switch from one medicine to another, you have to stop giving the medicine (or steroid) for 2-7 days to let the animal eliminate that drug before you can start another one. So, that means that if you happened to give your dog an aspirin (or some old steroid you had lying around, or your other dog's leftover pain medicine from her spay), your vet will not be able to start a new (more appropriate) drug until the other drug has left your dog's bloodstream. So, do not give any meds without talking to your vet, and always (ALWAYS) tell your vet about any medicine (prescription, over-the-counter, or vitamins) that your dog has had within the past few weeks).

So, the most important step in treating your pet's arthritis pain is to make a visit to their veterinarian. The doctor will do a physical and feel the joints to see if there are any injuries. They may want to take x-rays to see which joints have arthritis. They will do blood work to see if there are any underlying issues that may not make it safe to start arthritis medicine. If a dog or cat has increased liver or kidney enzymes then they may have to choose a different medication or decrease the dose. These blood tests will need to be repeated after the pet has been on the medicine to make sure the drug did not change anything. Then they will probably be repeated once a year to monitor their response to the drugs.

There are other things you can do for your pet's arthritis. Most importantly, if they're overweight, put them on a diet and exercise program. 3 extra pounds on a Boston Terrier is the same as 30 extra pounds on a 150lb person. If their joints are aching, wouldn't it feel better to carry around less weight? The easiest way to take weight off a pet is to decrease their food. Talk to your vet about how much your cat or dog should actually be eating - the truth is most of us over feed our animals. If your pet is obese you may need to switch to a perscription diet food for a while. It may be more expensive than the food you get at the grocery store, but in the long run it will be worth it. Low impact exercise like walking and swimming are also a great way to decrease fat and increase muscle on your dog. For cats, buy them feather toys or balls to chase - and then play with them and make sure they're moving around. Most cats eat, then sleep all day. If we can get them moving around we can get some of that weight off.

There are also some vitamins and supplements that can help with arthritis. Omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin are all good for joints. Many times you can buy these over the counter, but check with your vet to determine your pet's dose. Also know that sometimes the human products aren't monitored by the FDA since they're not actually a drug. There are veterinary products on the market that are safer - Dasuquin by Nutramax is my personal favorite, but check with your vet to see what they recommend.

Image from http://www.canineequinerehab.com/ 
Physical therapy is also utilized in animals. There are veterinary physical therapists who have special techniques to help animals in pain. They use many of the same therapies that are used in human medicine, including hydrotherapy, laser therapy, balance exercises, and muscle strengthening and range of motion exercises. Ask your vet if they do PT at their office, or if there is a veterinary physical therapist nearby.

Lastly, there are additional medicines that your vet may use to decrease your pet's pain. Adequan is an injection that can strengthen joint cartilage and slow down arthritis. There are other perscription medicines that can be given along with arthritis meds - these are particularlly helpful if the arthritis meds aren't working as well as the dog's arthritis gets worse, or if you need to decrease the arthritis drugs because of increased kidney or liver enzymes. There are also perscription dog and cat foods designed for arthritic animals. They are high in omega fatty acids and in some animals delay the need for medicine.

Our pets give us lots of love. Let's return the favor and take extra special care of them as they get older and their joints get creakier. Make an appointment with your vet today if you suspect your cat or dog has arthritis. With their help you can make a plan to make your four legged kids as comfortable as possible!


  1. This is what i was really looking for. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Having a strong support system, including family, friends, doctors, and other caregivers will ensure that your arthritis never takes your life away from you. Rely on them for help with any problem, from lifting you out of a chair to doing your grocery shopping for you.