Managing Arthritis in our Pets

Managing Arthritis in our Pets
By Sophie Pilkington, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Morrinsville

Managing arthritis can be challenging! No two pets are the same and there are so many options available. It can be confusing or overwhelming to know what is best for your aging pet.

When discussing “osteoarthritis” or “degenerative joint disease” with clients, I like to start by reiterating that this disease is progressive: generally speaking, we cannot un-do existing damage but with good management, we can slow the progression, prevent further damage, and make our pets much more comfortable.

Imagine arthritis is like a bushfire. This analogy isn’t too far from the truth, given that arthritis literally translates to “joint inflammation”. We might not be able to put this inferno out completely, but we can reduce the fuel for the fire and turn on the hose to dampen the flames.

Reducing the fuel for the fire:

  1. Body condition

    If your pet is overweight, I cannot stress enough how much extra load/force this is putting on their joints. Extra load = more pressure = more inflammation. Keeping your pet slim often makes the biggest difference out of all the management options, and the bonus being it won’t cost you a cent.

  2. Gentle exercise

    This part is largely irrelevant to our feline friends! For our canine companions though, it pays to moderate the exercise. Zoomies, excessive runs, chasing balls, rough play, fast and sudden changes in direction are all types of exercise that you can expect will make your arthritic pet more painful (think about how stiff Granny would feel after a night on the dancefloor!). High impact activities put more load on the joints = more inflammation. Gentle exercise, such as light walking or even swimming (extra-low impact!) can do wonders. Take care with swimming that you have smooth entry and exit points to the water – a steep bank your dog has to haul itself up can sometimes result in further strains/injuries.

  3. A smorgasbord of bedding

    Make sure your pet has plenty of soft, thick bedding options to choose from. Of course, many of them will choose to go and lie on the cold concrete anyway, but having the option there is important.

  4. Ensure optimal joint health

    By maximizing joint health, we can reduce the inflammatory “cascade” that occurs. There are a few ways to go about this; it boils down to providing the right building blocks for optimal joint fluid and cartilage. Cartilage and joint fluid provide the all-important lubrication for movement – improving this will help reduce the inflammation. My personal preference for this area is putting pets on a carefully formulated joint/mobility diet. These diets are loaded with high-quality ingredients such as omega oils and can have high-calorie content so you need to be careful about the volume you feed. Remember to allow up to 3 months before evaluating improvements – they may happen faster than this, but good things can take time.

I am also a fan of pentosan polysulfate injections – one injection per week for 4 weeks and from there, your vet will talk you through booster injections – there are various protocols we tend to follow.

There are many other joint supplements you can give. Some of them are fantastic, and some of them just have an excellent marketing team behind them. It's best to check with your vet before settling on a supplement as, if your pet is already on a joint diet, there may be no further benefit to your pet (just damage to your wallet!). Also, for pets that have other health issues, certain supplements may not be appropriate.

Dampening the fire/turning on the hose

For some pets with mild arthritis, our “fuel reduction” strategies have such an amazing result that nothing further is required. For pets with stubborn fires, we have some great “hose” options.

Arguably the most common strategy in general practice is prescribing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). There are many options – tablets, liquids, daily treatment vs longer-acting treatment.

NSAIDs work by blocking all or part of the inflammatory cascade, thereby reducing the inflammation in the joint. NSAIDs are wonderful drugs but not every pet can have them – your vet can advise you if they are appropriate and safe to be given. Over time, we recommend blood tests to monitor kidney and liver function as NSAIDs can be harmful if there is existing disease elsewhere. Some pets might only need them from time to time and some pets require them long-term. Please note, for young animals with joint problems, NSAIDs can be contraindicated – your vet will guide you as to what is best for your pet.
For pets with severe arthritis, we often prescribe adjunctive pain relief medications such as gabapentin. However, as pet owners and vets, we must always consider the quality of life and pain management (or lack thereof) as an important part of this equation.

In summary, we (and our pets!) are so lucky to have so many options at our fingertips. As a vet, I think it is important to remind ourselves that arthritis is painful – just talk to Granny or Grandpa and they’ll fill you in! Pets don’t “fake” a limp; if they are limping, the majority of the time this means they are sore. Cats are often more subtle – perhaps they don’t like to jump on and off the bench anymore. It is easy to think to ourselves, “oh, Fluffy is just slowing down” but in reality, there may be things we can address and improve for our pets – even if it’s just persisting with shifting that extra kilo of weight or being careful with the exercise. If you are concerned your pet may be suffering from arthritis and would like to discuss the options, don’t hesitate to call us. We’ll be very happy to help 😊

Date Added: Thursday, 29th April 2021