by Dr. Mike Mossop
A frequent comment I hear from clients is that their adult or senior pet is “slowing down.” While it’s normal for an older pet to have lower energy than their former adolescent self, all too often this change is actually an early sign of osteoarthritis (OA).
OA is a condition in dogs and cats in which joint cartilage wears down, bone spurs form and inflammation sets in. Sounds painful, right? Well it is, but it’s amazing what little troopers our pets are; they hide their discomfort and subtle changes often go unnoticed by pet-parents. Even among veterinarians, the condition is significantly under diagnosed, but given enough time OA will affect virtually every pet as they age.
The good news is that there are many options for treatment that can help keep your pet happy and comfortable. First, you need to tune into your pet’s mobility by watching for stiffness or soreness after getting up, hesitation before running or jumping, or trouble navigating stairs and other obstacles. Taking note of these things can help you and your veterinarian formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan. Comparing these markers over time is also a great way to judge how things are progressing and whether a specific treatment is working or not.
If your pet is overweight, the benefit of a healthy weight loss plan cannot be over-emphasized as it could reduce or delay the need for medication. When something more is needed, however, there are many other solutions. Using several forms of treatment together (termed multi-modal management) rather than a single treatment alone leads to better results in many cases. Here’s a quick summary of some of the best options:
Nutraceuticals (e.g. Glucosamine/Chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids) Scientific evidence to support their efficacy is weak but they appear to have a positive effect on many patients and are a good first-line option as they are extremely safe.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories (e.g. Metacam, Deramaxx) These drugs are the cornerstone of OA management in both veterinary and human medicine. They are very effective, but they also pose a risk of stomach upset and may not be suitable for pets with other medical conditions like liver or kidney disease.
Other pain medications (e.g. Tramadol, Gabapentin, Amantadine) These drugs fall into various categories. They work well, but may sedate some pets, unlike the NSAID category of drugs.
Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis Drugs (e.g. Cartrophen) These are injectable medications that can slow the progression of OA. Many owners are comfortable after brief instruction continuing these injections under the skin at home.
Rehabilitation Therapy (e.g. physiotherapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture) These options help restore normal biomechanics, movement and strength in your pet’s body and have no side effects when done properly. Some exercises can even be done at home after professional instruction.
Regenerative Medicine (e.g. stem cells, platelet-rich plasma) This is a new and emerging field that shows tremendous promise. In broad terms, they involve harvesting cells with healing capabilities from the patient themselves, processing them and re-injecting them into affected joints to help regenerate damaged tissue.
So how does exercise fit into all of this? With OA, we know that pets need to “use it or lose it” and regular moderate exercise contributes to better joint health. The goal of all treatments is to keep pets comfortable which in turn helps them stay active and maintain muscle mass and flexibility. In cases where OA is more severe, there are also some things you can do around the house to make everyday living easier for your pet:
Make sleeping surfaces as comfortable as possible. Consider providing your pet with an orthopaedic or memory foam bed.
Use a ramp or a “step up” to access a couch, bed or vehicle to eliminate stress on the hind legs. Check out www.helpemup.com for a specialized harness that can also help them navigate these tricky areas.
Keep cats warm and dry indoors. Outdoor living is not appropriate for cats with significant OA because they cannot easily defend themselves nor can they evade other outdoor dangers.
Try adding area rugs to provide traction or baby gates to prevent access to areas with slippery floors, as these can be difficult for pets with OA. Also, visit www.toegrips.com for a great solution for dogs that is generally better tolerated than booties.
As always, if you’re concerned about your pet’s comfort and well-being, talk with your veterinarian to formulate a customized plan that will keep you and your pet happy for years to come.
Dr. Mike Mossop is a veterinarian practicing as a locum at various clinics around the city. To find out more, or to submit an idea for a future article, please visit www.doctormike.vet. Dr. Mike is not associated with or paid by any of the companies mentioned in this article.