Many pet owners in the UK own older pets. Whether these are dogs, cats, rabbits or exotics, once our pets start to go grey, we need to monitor their health more closely to pick up on problems that may be developing. For example, some pets may struggle to keep weight on, some may need to start on medication to help monitor their hormones for diseases such as Diabetes or Cushing’s, and some may start to need fewer walks or less intense exercise.
One of the most common problems for older pets is the development of osteoarthritis a condition that affects your pet’s joints, causing them to become swollen and painful. The bones in these joints should have smooth surfaces, allowing them to glide past each other during movement. In affected arthritic joints, the bone surfaces have become worn and uneven, meaning that when your pet moves the bones will rub against each other, causing pain. Statistics show that 80% of older pets can suffer with arthritis so it is important that owners know what clinical signs to look for. Carry on reading below to discover what tell-tale signs your pet may be displaying, as well as management changes recommended to help older animals on a daily basis. If you would like to discuss changes in your pet, make sure you contact your vet.
One common sign of arthritis could be that your pet is sleeping more. Dogs often have difficulty getting up after periods of rest, slow down on walks and may be reluctant to jump into the car. Cats may take extra time to jump up on surfaces or show signs of incontinence or missing the litter tray. If you notice these signs book an appointment with your vet straight away. Arthritis is usually diagnosed on a combination of clinical findings. This includes watching the animal walk around, feeling the joints for evidence of swelling, thickening, pain or restriction in range of movement. Radiographic images are also a useful diagnostic tool to confirm how severe the bone changes are.
Osteoarthritis is unfortunately something that can’t be cured. However, there are lots of management techniques that owners can adopt to help improve their pet’s mobility.
Weight loss- Any pet carrying excess weight is going to struggle. By keeping your pet as lean as possible, those suffering with arthritis will have a better chance of moving freely with less impact on the joints. Most vet practices have scales in their waiting room that are free for pets to use, keep an eye on your pet’s weight and discuss weight management options either with a vet or nurse. Many practices even offer a weight loss group for pets so it may be worth seeing what is on offer with your chosen practice!
Medication- After a clinical examination your vet may feel it beneficial to start your pet on some anti-inflammatory medication. Most pets would stay on this medication long-term and your pet will require regular reviews to assess their progress and to fine tune management.
Supplements- There are a range of supplements available on the market for your older pet, however it is always worth consulting your vet in regard to suitability. Glucosamine and chondroitin, green lipped mussel and cod liver oil are some of the supplements your vet may discuss with you.
Exercise- To help keep weight off their joints, pets should be exercised little and often. Long walks will be tiring, and painful but shorter bursts will help keep your pet active and healthy. Allowing your dog to walk and run a little will help them, however jumping for treats, chasing toys, skidding and running on uneven ground may cause further damage to joints and pain.
Home life- When it’s feeding time it may be worth considering elevating the feed bowls to make it easier for your pet to eat. A choice of beds allows your pet to lay depending on how their body feels. The best two options are a cuddly bed as well as a flat mattress type bed made out of memory foam as these are kind to joints. Placing a heat pad under the bed may make them more comfortable as a gentle heat soothes painful joints. Furthermore, making using of carpet or anti-slip mats in your house will decrease the risk of your pet skidding, causing them pain. Focus on the areas of your house that your pet will use most frequently. Outside the house consider non slip ramps to help your pet get up or down any stairs or into the car.
Although osteoarthritis affects many pets there are lots of things that can help manage the condition and allow your fur baby to lead a comfortable active life. Your veterinary clinic is the best port of call for advice.