Caring for Joint Health in Cats & Dogs

Similar to the vast progress made by human medicine in the past few centuries, animal medicine has come a long way over the years. Between advances in medical technology and easier access to information on veterinary medicine, our pets are living longer and longer. Having your beloved cat or dog around for more years than ever before is wonderful, but it means that you have the extra responsibility of ensuring that their golden years are good ones.

Arthritis is not a disease that exclusively afflicts humans. Your dog or cat can also develop it over time as they age and their joints begin to deteriorate.

Are you interested in knowing how arthritis develops in our cats and dogs, as well as essential information about the disease? In this post, we’ll discuss what we can do to proactively care for the joint health of our cats and dogs. We’ll address how to combat the condition before it starts, as well as how to make pets more comfortable if they develop joint issues over time.

What is Arthritis?

The American Animal Hospital Association (AHAA) defines arthritis (also known as osteoarthritis) as a degenerative condition that affects the joints of our pets. In pets who develop arthritis, the cushion that exists between bones in the joint, called cartilage, breaks down over time. This can cause the bones to rub together, creating painful friction that can decrease your dog’s or cat’s ability to move freely, possibly resulting in the development of bone spurs.

Arthritis symptoms

If your cat or dog is experiencing joint issues, they may not be simple to diagnose. Symptoms of the condition can be easily mistaken for symptoms commonly associated with aging, so it’s always smart to visit your veterinarian for a professional diagnosis.

While observing your pet, watch out for the following signs: one or more of them could indicate joint pain or arthritis.

  • A decrease daily activity level that occurs either quickly or gradually
  • Demonstrating difficulty with sitting down or standing back up
  • Noticeable weight gain
  • Increased time spent sleeping
  • Avoiding activities that would require jumping, running, or climbing or descending stairs
  • Less interest in playing or being active
  • Favoring or avoiding the use of a limb
  • Changes in attitude, such as increased irritability

Specific to cats, you may also notice:

  • An increase in vocalization
  • Grooming behavior changes, such as grooming more or less frequently, or focusing intently on one particular area
  • Avoiding being touched or interacting socially––cats tend to withdraw when they are in pain or feeling unwell

If your pet is diagnosed with arthritis or another joint health issue, there are treatment and management options available.

Ways to Manage Joint Health Issues

Cats and dogs who develop issues with their joints or who are diagnosed with arthritis have a number of available treatment options. Most vets will recommend a combination of lifestyle management, treatment techniques and medical management to help to lessen symptoms, slow the disease’s progression and care for the joints of your pet.

Lifestyle management techniques include:

Weight Management

According to a 2016 study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 58% of cats and 54% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Carrying extra pounds can lead to a host of health issues, including joint problems and arthritis.

Helping your pet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is the first and one of the most important steps you can take to preserve their joint health.

This can be achieved through modifying their diet, including pet food fortified with important nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids that can help to improve joint health.

Exercise

Next, work with your vet to determine an appropriate exercise program for your pet. Daily movement is important to help your dog or cat develop and retain their range of motion and build their surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

The right type of exercise will vary depending on your pet’s overall joint health. For some dogs and cats, daily walks will suffice. Others with more advanced deterioration may benefit from aqua therapy or aqua jogging to limit the impact on the joints.

They key is regular, daily activity. Exercise will also assist with helping you pet attain a healthy weight.

Modify their Environment

If they have arthritis, dogs who have to walk up stairs to enter their homes and cats who have to climb or step over high walls to access their litter boxes may experience unnecessary pain.

Consider your pet’s environment, and make applicable changes to help them to be more comfortable. By installing a pet-friendly ramp to make it easier to go outside, or by raising up a food and water dish to a more comfortable level, you can make a big difference for your pet’s comfort and mobility.

In addition to lifestyle techniques, your vet may recommend incorporating the following treatments into your pet’s joint care routine:

Heat Therapy

Applying heat to the joints can reduce inflammation and provide comfort, relieving some of the pain associated with arthritis in pets.

Joint Supplements

Adding supplements to your pet’s diet that are designed to help improve joint function can be beneficial. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and elk velvet antler are all commonly recommended. These substances have been proven to help dogs and cats.

While these supplements are not painkillers and won’t help to manage joint pain, they can help stop the progression of the condition. According to this 2004 study, supplements may even offer long-term relief from symptoms.

Medical Management

To address arthritis in pets, a number of different medical management techniques exist, including therapies such as injectable osteoarthritis agents, anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids. Each of these treatment options carries potential side effects, and in some cases, the risks outweigh the potential benefits. It’s important to talk with your vet about these treatment options to understand if they are appropriate for your pet.

Caring for and managing the joint health of your cat or dog is a process that requires many steps. With lots of attention and a little luck, your pet will live many long, happy and pain-free years.

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