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10 things to do if your pet has arthritis

Hill’sTM Pet Nutrition and CityVets in Limerick in Ireland have got together to produce this essential guide to caring for your pet with arthritis. With some extra care and the support of your local veterinary practice, your arthritic pet can live a happy life. Find out how here. 

  1. Don’t ignore it if you see your dog or cat limping. It could be a sign of arthritis.
    Although there are probably hundreds of reasons why pets might limp, arthritis is right up there with the most common, affecting 20% of dogs and perhaps as many as 90% of cats!
    That limp that seems to come and go, difficulty climbing stairs or getting into the car: these are all signs your pet could be suffering from arthritis. Never seen your cat do any of those things? Well, that’s not too surprising as cats adapt by just lying around more and refusing to do anything at all. It’s not laziness, it’s their way of coping.
    Lots of pet owners think ‘old age’ has caused their pet to slow down, which is a huge shame because if pets get the treatment they need for arthritis, their mobility and quality of life can improve.
  2. Arthritis pain relief for dogs and cats
    Once you know your pet has arthritis, what’s going to be your biggest concern? Treating the pain, of course – no pet parent wants to believe their pet is in pain.
    Do not be tempted to use over the counter human medicines or painkillers, as some of those can be highly toxic to pets. Talk to your vet, ask them about the stage of your pet’s arthritis (it is a progressive condition) and to recommend a treatment programme to match. Be patient as some medications work better for some individuals than others and a bit of time may be necessary to find the best combination for your pet.
  3. Tender loving care helps relief of pet pain
    Of course, feeling helpless is perhaps the worst thing about caring for an arthritic pet but did you know that while it’s not a complete substitute for medical pain relief, stroking, petting and talking to your pet results in natural oxytocin release (in both you and your pet). Oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘self-soothing hormone’, increases pain thresholds, reduces anxiety and has an anti-inflammatory effect, so go ahead and make a fuss of your pet – it will do both of you a lot of good.
  4. He ain’t heavy…. he probably won’t have arthritis
    Carrying too much weight has been shown to increase the likelihood of arthritis in pets. It was originally thought that all that extra weight bearing down upon the joints simply put them under too much strain. Experts now believe that it’s much more complex than that.
    At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how it happens because it’s more important to focus on what you can do about it. Keeping your dog or cat at ideal body weight is a great way to help lessen the risk of arthritis developing. You can find out how to do that here.
    If your dog or cat has arthritis and needs to lose a few pounds, know that it can make a BIG difference. Some pets are even able to come off their arthritis pain relief medication once they get down to ideal body weight. That has to be a target worth aiming for.
  5. Be well groomed
    Very gentle but frequent brushing and combing will be necessary. Cats in particular might not be able to reach the areas where they would normally self-groom. If bathing is needed then use lots of towels for drying and keep your pet warm afterwards. Make sure any professional groomers you use know your pet has arthritis. Nails might have to be cut more often and more carefully to avoid straining painful joints.
    Tender areas at the elbows and over joints like the hock where there is little cushioning tissue might develop pressure sores or calluses. Most cause no problems but provide soft, supportive bedding, practise good hygiene, feed a good quality diet and gently move your pet if they have been lying in the same position for two hours. Open or irritated pressure sores should be examined by a vet.
  6. Choose a pet food that combines weight control and joint support
    You’ve probably heard about the use of glucosamine to support joint health. Glucosamine is one of the building blocks of cartilage and it’s thought that by providing an additional source in food that it might better support cartilage health. When a dog suffers from arthritis, deterioration of the joint cartilage is just one of a cascade of changes that go on within the joints. Other nutrients commonly associated with joint health are the omega 3 fatty acids, commonly found in ingredients like fish oils.
    Of course, if you can tackle weight and joint care together that’s even better so do speak to your vet about the best way to do that.
  7. Don’t stop the walkies or workouts
    Yes arthritis reduces your pet’s mobility but does that mean your pet should become a couch potato? Generally the answer is no. There might be some times when your pet has had an acute flare up that you are instructed to allow rest but most times gentle, regular exercise keeps joints mobile and builds muscle.
    Never do too much in one walk – the results won’t be obvious until later in the day or even the next day. Think about building in walks up gentle inclines and about the intensity, as well as the duration. Go for short and frequent lead exercise and build up from there. A harness is often more comfortable and supportive than a collar.  Speak to your vet about detailed individual exercise plans or referral to a vet specialising in rehabilitation.
  8. Blow hot and cold – another treatment for pet arthritis
    Heat in the form of a well wrapped hot water bottle or heat pad can help soothe the joints of some dogs with arthritis. Make sure they are mobile enough to move away from the heat when they have had enough and keep checking comfort levels. Some individuals sometimes respond better to a sealed bag of frozen peas for a short spell especially if joints are swollen and there is active disease.
  9. Remove the obstacles to a happier life
    Use low lipped litter trays and have more of them so your cat doesn’t have to walk as far and make sure food and water bowls are easy to access (that might mean putting them up on a box at head height or moving them down to the floor). Replace steps with ramps if possible, or make a ramp up to high areas your pet loves (such as a window seat that allows a view of the outdoors). A soft cosy bed that is easy to access is essential – think softness and thickness for joint support but not so luxurious and puffed up that your pet can’t climb in or out easily.
  10. Know your pet’s tell-tale signs of pain
    Pain is a very personal response and it can be a matter of finding out what works best for your pet at any one time. Don’t forget to observe stoic characters and cats very carefully to try and recognise when they are feeling pain. Some will hide away and some will be attention seeking – get to know what your pet’s tell-tale sign is. There may be times when your pet with arthritis suddenly gets a lot worse. Seek extra help from your vet at these times and talk though what’s in the best interests of your pet, as it may just be a temporary flare-up. Pets with arthritis can live long and happy lives with your support.
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