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Holding Back the Winter Blues.

 

As we go into the colder weather of autumn and winter, the accumulated wear and tear of life in combination with old age, can lead to many a stiff and sore older animal.

 

Arthritis refers to inflammation and bony changes associated with the joints. In domestic animals it can occur for a number of reasons; old age, injury, wear and tear or nutritional causes are the most common.

Although our companion animals frequently do not show signs of arthritis until the arthritis is quite advanced, there is often damage occurring before the symptoms appear. We regularly find arthritic joints as incidental features when taking routine x-rays.

 

Joint replacement is only in its infancy in animals (hip replacements in dogs only), so it is not possible to cure the arthritic animal. However there are a number of drugs available that can be used to manage the arthritic pet to enhance their quality of life and enable them to continue to working without suffering the severe side effects that they otherwise would.

 

If you are uncertain if your cat or dog is suffering from arthritis – try answering the following short quiz:      

Is your dog or cat showing…

 

  • Limping or stiffness?
  • Difficulty getting up after rest?
  • Difficulty jumping up onto a chair or vehicle or over fences?
  • Reluctance to come out of their kennel or bed?
  • Licking or chewing at joints?
  • Reduced appetite?

 

If you can answer, “yes” to any of these questions then they may be suffering from arthritis and could benefit from treatment that could be provided by their vet.

 

My old Huntaway still wants to work the sheep, but the day after I’ve done any work he won’t get up on the bike

 

Our working dogs are in many ways their own worst enemies. That enthusiasm for work and reluctance to let the boss down, combine to mean that they push themselves well past the point where they should have sat down and taken a rest!

 

Your dog probably has arthritis in his lower back, hips or stifles. After a day out working this arthritis flares and the result is stiff and sore joints the next day that make it painful for him to jump. Of course, he doesn’t want to let you down; otherwise he’d still be tucked up in his kennel nursing his aching joints.

 

Our cat has become reluctant to jump down off our bed, and sometimes when he does he cries as if it’s painful.

Quite rightly – it probably is! Cats can suffer from arthritis just like dogs, but because they are better at managing themselves, it is less often noticed. Your cat probably has arthritis about its spine, shoulders and elbows. In days gone by, cats were often fed a lot of offal from the home kills and regular feds of liver resulted in high levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is involved with remodelling the bone and was a big culprit in causing arthritis along cats spines and shoulders. Fortunately the advent of good commercial diets, with less home kill, has virtually eliminated this problem.

 

A friend has suggested that I give my old dog paracetamol for its arthritis – how much should I give him?

While paracetamol can be used in dogs it has very poor anti-inflammatory effects and if used excessively it can cause liver damage. It should NEVER be used in cats. If your animal has an arthritis that is bothering him enough to want to give him medication, why not make an appointment at the vets and get some appropriate anti-arthritic drugs for him to have.

Depending on the examination at the vets you may be offered several different options for treatment, or further investigations may be recommended to establish exactly what the problem is.

 

Do I have to give my animal medication for his arthritis?

Ask yourself if you would rather live with your arthritis, or have some relief! If you feel that your animal is arthritic, then they probably will benefit from some treatment. This can take many forms; injections, nutritional supplements, tablets or liquid medication. At Clutha Vets we try to adapt the treatment required to suit each individual case. If the arthritis is mild or only affects them after heavy work we may treat with supplements to aid the joints, or heavier medication only when required.

 

I have a German Shepherd and worry that he will get arthritic as he ages.
What can I do to help prevent it?
 

Arthritis by its very nature is not preventable, but it is possible to minimise its effects.

  • Feed a balanced diet to suit your dogs’ life stage. Ensure that puppies are fed a puppy food until they are fully grown – this is often later than you think.
  • Don’t let your dog get over weight – obesity puts more pressure on their joints.
  • Ensure that they have regular exercise. Nothing is surer to lead to damage than an unfit dog trying to do too much. This applies to farm dogs as well; a dog that has only had 5 minutes exercise a day for 2 months cannot safely work a 10-hour day without doing damage to their joints. The lucky ones get arthritis in late middle age; the not so lucky have problems much earlier.

  

Arthritis is an unavoidable consequence of aging and, as our pets are live longer, we are seeing much more of it. Fortunately we can now do much more for it as well. If you feel your cat or dog would benefit from treatment for arthritis come and see us at Clutha Vets.

 

Written by: Suzanne Craig BVCs - Small Animal Vet, based at Balclutha and used in the local newspaper (The Leader) in the monthly Pet Corner section.