It’s winter, and that’s the worst time for aches, pains and twinges.
Think of arthritis as an incurable, chronic disease. But, rather than accepting nothing can be done, it means that it’s up to you to make your friend as healthy, happy, and comfortable as possible with the joints that nature, nurture and time have dealt them.
It basically breaks down to a three pronged attack:
Firstly, a fit, light and well-muscled cat or dog is much better suited to live with degenerative joint disease then a flabby, portly one.
This means that the first, and most important, step in management is almost entirely up to you: weight loss. Most pets are over-weight. But a pound or two here or there are easily the difference between being a little stiff and getting up becoming just too painful to be worth the effort. Every extra kilo is added strain on joints that are degenerate, degenerating and painful. So do it. Read the packet, measure out the food, factor treats and chew toys into the daily food allocation, bulk it up with high fibre-low calorie filler (for dogs), pick up a slow feeder dish, don’t free feed, ask us to help you figure out a diet plan, and feed the dog (or cat!) and not the bowl. And above all, stick with it. The only way to lose weight is to be hungry, and expect them to act that way. We’d all eat more than we needed if it were up to us. But push through it. They’ll be better and brighter in so many ways, and you’ll be doing something real, and very important, to make their lives so much easier.
The second part is exercise. Gentle, controlled and consistent. This does not mean haring around the beach like a mad thing for a few hours once a week. Violent stress just further damages fragile joints. It means quiet leash walks, tailored to the pet, but usually about half an hour, daily. Moving and lubricating the joints slows their decline, and building up muscle takes the strain and weight off them. Obviously easier with a dog than a cat. But there are toys and enrichments that will encourage a rotund kitty to get up and about a little more.
Diet is a really important part of arthritis management. Switch to something with joint support, like Royal Canin’s mobility diet, or add a supplement, like Glyde. These are packed full of the building blocks of healthy cartilage, good fats and natural anti-inflammatories. The idea is to give the joints the absolute best chance to lay down as much healthy cartilage as possible, even as unbalanced weight on the joint grinds it away. The destruction causes inflammation, which makes to situation worse and causes swelling and pain, but the right fats and cytokines help minimise it. The one potential sticking point is that all those good fats are still fats, and we want that weight off. So make sure you talk to us about how much your pet really needs, not how much s/he will have you believe they do.
Joints hurt most in the cold, after a rest or after vigorous exercise. So it might be time to bring an outside dog or cat inside, or at the very least make sure they have somewhere warm and dry to sleep, especially over the cooler months. Next, invest in the right bed. This isn’t just soft, too forgiving and getting up can be even harder, it’s about the right support. Go for an orthobed. They are designed for just the right compromise between firm and comfortable.
How can we vets help? Well, since arthritis is progressive, that depends on where your dog or cat falls along the spectrum. The most basic part of treatment is to get started on a course of injections that act like a concentrated joint support, but more intensive. They provide the necessary staples for building cartilage and joint fluid, but also actually directly encourage the joints to step up their production of cartliage and joint fluid, as well as protecting them to a degree from the gradual, insidious damage of constant inflammation.
Some dogs and cats have progressed a little further, and may have acute pain flair ups, especially during winter, or after serious exercise. A short course of pain relief can make an enormous difference in smoothing out a hump, maybe from there, a more basic level of maintenance may well be enough. But some animals have moved to a point where they are in constant, chronic pain, despite every other change and improvement. For them, long term anti-inflammatory therapy can make the world of difference. Bear in mind that, with an older cat or dog, we are always thinking even harder about how any new drug or medication can act on various systems that have probably seen better days, so it’s a really good idea to run a little preliminary lab work to rule a few things out.
Yes, it’s a commitment, but a life of pain just isn’t an option.
Arthritis isn’t going to go away, but there is so much we can do to make it better! Or at least, less worse, less quickly.
And when you think about it, that’s pretty exciting.