Arthritis in cats and dogs: what it is and how to manage it

Arthritis in cats and dogs: what it is and how to manage it

What is arthritis?

Arthritis (referred to as ‘osteoarthritis’, or ‘OA’), is when there is a gradual wear and tear of cartilage in a pet's joints. The cartilage is a tough flexible tissue found on the end of the bones and acts as a cushion, absorbing shock and allowing bones to slide over one another without pain. 

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of long-term pain in dogs, and it can occur in cats too. It causes the joints to become painful, stiff and swollen and makes getting around more difficult.

The problem is more common in older pets, affecting up to 80% of them. If left untreated, it sadly eventually affects the whole pet and can result in a loss of quality of life.

Whilst osteoarthritis can not be cured, there is lots that can be done to help. Our Joii vets have put together this guide to help.

The symptoms of arthritis in pets

An obvious limp or change to the way your pet walks

Appearing stiff when getting off of their bed

Not wanting to jump or climb stairs anymore

Decreased energy levels

Lack of enthusiasm for walks or playtime

Loss of normal habits, such as stretching, shaking and rolling

New habits such as licking feet or increased circling before lying down

Wanting to spend more time alone

Cats may become more withdrawn, needy or aggressive.

Can arthritis be treated?

The best way to tackle arthritis is to make lots of small changes. Arthritis is not a condition that can be cured, however it can be managed to keep pets as comfortable and mobile as possible.

Here are ten ways to help manage arthritis

1. Maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a lean body weight is key in arthritic pets. Not only does being overweight put extra pressure on the joints, but the compounds in the fat itself can increase the inflammation in arthritic joints.

2. Adapt the home
Control your pet's access to stairs and try to minimise how much they jump on and off furniture. Cats may start to prefer horizontal scratching posts over vertical ones. Special beds for joints known as ‘orthopaedic beds’ can help your pet to be less stiff after sleep.

3. Cover slippy floors
Use rugs or non slip mats or runners.

4. Consider using ramps

Ramps can help pets up and down external stairs, and to help them into cars. Consider a cat carrier where the lid can be removed.

5. Modify exercise to suit
Exercise should be controlled, regular and in small amounts. Two or three small walks a day are better than one massive one. Avoid overdoing it on the weekends.

6. Stop high intensity games
Including games like fetch. Just because a dog will keep running for a ball doesn’t mean that they should be.

7. Diet and supplements can help

There are a
whole range of diets, supplements and natural products designed to aid pet mobility. Joint supplements are not a replacement for pain medications and do not suit all pets. If you are wanting to add in a supplement or make a diet change our veterinary nurses are online now to help you.

8. Medicines prescribed by your vet
Vets may prescribe pain killers or medicines to help reduce the inflammation.

9. Complementary therapies
These are treatments offered alongside any medications and diets that will aid relief for your pet. These include  physiotherapy, hydrotherapy or acupuncture. Some care providers are not regulated so it is essential to research any service thoroughly before using it.

10. Further intervention -
from alternative pain relief to injectable therapies and even surgery, there are multiple ways that your vet can help

Managing dog and cat arthritis in cold weather

When the weather cools down, pets with arthritis can become more uncomfortable. The colder weather can cause flare ups for sore joints, making them stiff and painful. When it's colder outside, you can use these two simple tips:

  1. Use warm heat to soothe sore joints. Using a heat pad under your pet's bedding can give relief, especially on cold days. Regularly check the heat pad to make sure it is not getting too hot and that your pet can move away from it if they choose to. Always ensure there is sufficient bedding between the pet and the heat pad, as burns can occur if in direct contact.
  2. Always dry dogs after wet walks with a towel and place them in a draft free warm room afterwards.

Need more advice?

Osteoarthritis symptoms develop slowly and get worse over time which means it can be difficult to know when to seek help. Our vets are online 24/7 if you notice any of the symptoms listed above or have noticed your pet's condition worsening. Older pets benefit from regular check ups to pick up on any signs early on. With correct management, many pets can go on to live happy lives long after diagnosis.

Download the Joii app today for 24/7 online vet calls for £24.

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