Many owners of senior pets have noticed them slowing down to some degree, whether its inability to jump into the car or difficulty walking up the stairs. It can be easy to assume that they are just slowing down due to age. However, the cause may be osteoarthritis, a very common condition seen in senior pets. Sometimes the signs are fairly obvious, such as limping or frequently crying out in pain. One of the most difficult things an owner of a senior pet can do is watch their pet deal with the pain of osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, can be defined as a progressive, degenerative and irreversible deterioration of articular cartilage. Occasionally this can be a primary issue with no underlying cause. However, many times it is secondary to other issues such as trauma to a joint, joint instability (such as patellar luxation or hip dysplasia), or joint malalignment. Some pets are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than others, and risk factors can include obesity, excessive physical activity, and, of course, old age.

If you suspect your pet has arthritis, an initial physical exam and consultation is important to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possibilities, such as cancer or infectious causes of arthritis. Radiographs can also help diagnosis and rule-out other conditions, as well as determine whether surgery is an option. Surgery may be of benefit in cases such as a chip fracture or total hip replacement for severe hip dysplasia. Often times, however, arthritis is treated through medical management.

Since arthritis cannot be cured, the goal of treatment is to manage arthritis by slowing down the progression and making your pet as comfortable as possible. One of the most effective means of managing arthritis is to maintain a lean body weight. Certain cases show significant reduction in signs of arthritis simply by reducing the pet’s weight. Another important aspect of management is providing your pet with low intensity exercise. This can be provided through long walks, swimming, or even performing physical therapy at home. It is important to keep your pet moving in order to maintain muscle mass and range of motion in the joints. However, since some pets are so painful they can barely get around, it is important to add in pain medication to ensure that your pet will feel good enough to increase the physical activity.

There are many different types of medication used to treat arthritis, the most common being non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs work by providing relief from both pain and inflammation, and they can be very effective. There are many different NSAIDs to choose from, but it is important to obtain them from your veterinarian. Many NSAIDs used for people, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, are toxic to pets. However, no NSAID is completely safe, and it is important to only use them under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. Steps can be taken to reduce adverse effects from these drugs, including using the lowest effective dose and monitoring blood values. Another way to use less NSAIDs is to combine treatment with other pain medication. Using a multi-modal approach to pain management can not only reduce the risk of NSAIDs, but it will also provide a more complete pain control.

Joint supplements such as glucosamine can also provide relief from arthritis pain. These drugs are not regulated (Adequan being the exception) and most do not have data to back them up, which can make it difficult to choose which products to use as well as what dose. However, they are very safe and have been shown to provide relief, so they are definitely worth adding in to the multi-modal approach. Some diets have supplements such as glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids added in, as well as targeting for weight loss. Often times it is easier to provide arthritic pets these diets to make treatment a little easier.

Of course, there are always alternative therapies that can aid in pain relief. Practices such as chiropractics and acupuncture can sometimes make the world of difference when added into the management. Cold laser therapy is also gaining in popularity.

Although it is easier to observe in dogs, cats can also show signs of arthritis. In fact, the majority of senior cats are suffering from some degree of arthritis. Pain management can be a bit more difficult to obtain in cats than dogs, however, since there are no NSAIDs approved for long term use in cats. Discuss with your veterinarian what the best options would be based on what is available.

As you can see, there are many different options for treating arthritis. Often times, the best approach is to include many different treatments to provide the most relief. You don’t have to watch your senior pet suffer! If you suspect your pet is suffering from arthritis, make an appointment today!