As dogs age, the cartilage in their joints starts to thin and the cells in the cartilage die. And as these cells die, they produce enzymes that cause the joints to become inflamed. In severe cases where cartilage thinning is advanced, the normal space between the bones becomes narrower, bone lying underneath the cartilage crumbles and bony growths form in the joint. These processes lead to a deterioration in the normal functioning of your pet’s joints, causing pain, discomfort and lameness. This in turn leads to reduced activity and limb disuse that eventually results in muscle atrophy as the unused muscles waste away. Many of the changes above can be seen on an x-ray.
But the good news is in most cases this condition can be successfully managed. If you have a stiff old pet that is showing signs of discomfort, the following tips can help you to relieve the daily aches and pains associated with arthritis.
- Veterinary Check-ups — The first thing to do is to get your pet examined by your vet, who will advise an appropriate treatment plan. This typically involves a physical examination and x-rays to assess the state of joint deterioration. Regular check-ups are recommended so that your vet can monitor your dog’s arthritis and adjust the treatment accordingly.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight — Feed your dog an appropriate diet to help keep his weight in check. Extra kilo’s place an additional burden on the joints and will encumber an arthritic pooch further still.
- Moderate Exercise — It is important that your dog gets some form of regular exercise, but at the same time, it is important not to overdo it. Try to exercise your pet in an area that has a soft surface, keeping a close eye on your dog as he walks, runs or plays. Your veterinarian can advise you on the level of activity best suited to your pet’s condition.
- Keep Your Pet Warm and Cosy — As cold weather and damp conditions tend to aggravate arthritis, ensure your pet has a warm, dry bed to snuggle into, especially when the weather is cold. Line your pet’s bed with a warm fluffy blanket or two, which will not only add warmth, but also provide additional padding for those aching joints.
- Massage Therapy — Ask your vet if they can recommend an animal massage therapist that offers therapeutic massages for arthritic pets. Massaging sore muscles can stimulate blood flow to wasting muscles, increase circulation and flexibility, and generally make your pet feel happier.
- Medication — Pain meds such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can offer some relief from pain, while drugs that specifically treat osteoarthritis can improve your pet’s health. Consult with your veterinarian before administering any medication to your pet. Your vet may recommend a course of Cartrophen injections which aim to rebuild cartilage and minimise further joint degeneration. Cartrophen consists of polysulfated glycosaminoglycan an important building block in building and repairing cartilage tissue.
- Supplements — There are many different types of over-the-counter joint supplements that repair cartilage and promote healthy joints. These typically contain one or more of the following ingredients: chondroitin, glucosamine, green-lipped mussel, MSM as well other substances that improve the health of joints. Omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties that are toted to help ease arthritis in dogs, are often included in dog foods tailored for arthritic pets, but additional supplements may be beneficial.
- Alternative Medicine — Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, laser treatment and herbal remedies can all help improve the comfort and mobility of arthritic pets.
- Surgery — There are pros and cons to opting for surgery, but if your pet is in the advanced stages of arthritis or is likely to develop this later in life due to their conformation, surgery may be the best solution. Consult your veterinarian to learn more about what this involves and whether it is a suitable option for your pet.
- Home Environment — Make some subtle changes to your pet’s home environment to help make his life a little easier. Ensure his bed is well padded and that it is located in a dry area away from cold drafts. A memory foam dog bed is ideal for arthritic pets and will prevent pressure-point calluses from forming. Provide a ramp or steps covered in carpeting or other padded material to help your pet get on and off the couch or bed, get in and out of a car, or as an alternative to steps. Provide non-skid surfaces, such as carpets or secure rugs, to improve traction and prevent injuries from slipping.
If your dog is suffering from arthritis, it is best to seek the advice of a veterinarian who will recommend the best treatment and therapy for your pet’s condition. It is vitally important that you do not give your pet any over-the counter pain killers without first consulting your vet. For example, ibuprofen, a common pain killer, is toxic to both cats and dogs and can kill your pet. By making subtle changes in your pet’s lifestyle, you can help ease his stiffness and improve his comfort and overall health.