Two common myths about senior pets...
“My dog (or cat) is just slowing down because he is getting old"
“Animals get old and painful, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
What if we changed the word "Animals" to "Humans". Would many people agree with the statement...
"Humans get old and painful and there is nothing we can do about it.”
I think that most of us would absolutely disagree!
In fact, chronic arthritis pain in our pets is often seen as just getting old.
It is estimated that over 20% of ALL dogs (and even more cats) in the United States suffer from arthritis. Some estimates state that 80% of dogs over 8 years old suffer from arthritis!
Like most diseases, early detection is the key to successful management. Unfortunately, chronic pain from arthritis can be difficult to identify in the early stages. Most dogs don’t vocalize, yelp or even limp when they suffer from arthritis pain. Arthritis causes a consistent, low-level pain and often the only thing that we notice are changes in posture, mobility, temperament, or even just that our pets are just less willing to go for a walk or can't walk as far as they used to.
When dogs or cats have arthritis, movements as simple as getting up, down and moving around are uncomfortable. They become sedentary and don't play as much. They may just lie on their bed or couch, seem grumpy and uncomfortable, and can even get depressed and apathetic. Cats often stop being able to jump onto the counter or their cat tree or have difficulty getting into and out of the litter box which can manifest as them not using their litter box appropriately (inappropriate elimination).
Arthritis pain leads to a viscous cycle
Increased pain leads to decreased activity, which leads to more stiffness in the joints, which leads to increased weakness, loss of muscle and decreased mobility, which can cause weight gain, all of which in turn leads to more pain. In order to effectively improve the lives of our pets with arthritis, we need to break the cycle of pain and get them moving again!
So how do I know if my dog or cat is in pain?
Early signs that your pet may be in pain include behavioral, muscular, and gait and posture changes.
This post by the professionals at Canine Arthritis Management is a great resource on signs of chronic pain in animals: https://caninearthritis.co.uk/what-is-arthritis/identifying-signs/. Again, these signs can be subtle and are easily missed.
The Canine Arthritis Resources and Education (CARE) website also has a wonderful checklist to see if your dog might be in pain: https://caninearthritis.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Is-My-Dog-In-Pain-Quiz_new.pdf
I think my dog is in pain. Now what do I do?
The first step is to get a diagnosis. Make an appointment with your family veterinarian so they can diagnose what might be ailing your pet. Bring in these forms or a list of what you have noticed about your pet. It is very important to rule out other problems that might be causing some of the same signs that you are seeing. Heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, or other musculoskeletal diseases such as cranial cruciate disease, or even cancer can cause similar signs in our aging pets. It is important to rule out these conditions, both for overall health as well as to determine the best treatment plan for your pet.
Once your pet has been diagnosed by a veterinarian as having arthritis, the next step is to treat the pain and get them moving again!
While pain medications prescribed by your veterinarian are beneficial to most animals with arthritis and are often the first line of therapy, there are also many integrative therapies that when used in conjunction with appropriate pain medications will help ease the pain of arthritis in our pets!
PLEASE NOTE: NEVER use Advil, Tylenol, Aspirin or other common human pain medications in pets without talking to your veterinarian as these commonly used human medications can be TOXIC to our pets. Tylenol, for example, is FATAL to cats!
Reaching out to a Rehabilitation and Acupuncture Certified Veterinarian after a diagnosis of arthritis can be extremely beneficial for both you and your pet! These veterinarians are specially trained in techniques and modalities to decrease your animal’s pain and increase their quality of life.
Four main treatment categories that rehabilitation veterinarians use when deciding on a treatment plan for a patient with arthritis include:
Pain Management: Medications, Supplements, Acupuncture and Veterinary Spinal Manipulative Therapy
Nutrition and Weight Management: One of the most important components to a successful treatment plan is weight management!
Lifestyle/Home Modifications: Using non-slip rugs and assistive devices for example
Modalities and Manual Therapies: Laser, PEMF, manual therapy (joint mobilizations and spinal manipulative therapy), massage, stretching, and therapeutic exercises.
In future blog posts I will discuss these categories in more detail, but two invaluable sources of information are these websites:
Canine Arthritis Management (https://caninearthritis.co.uk) which is based out of the United Kingdom but is still quite helpful to those of us here in the US
Canine Arthritis Resources and Education (www.caninearthritis.org)
Our pet’s golden years can be awesome and we have all sorts of terrific tools in our veterinary toolbox to make their lives better! Yes, unfortunately at some point in their lives we will run out of tools in the toolbox, but we can absolutely make a big difference for a long time.
Our pets will age, but they don't have to age in pain
Our dogs and cats provide us with so much joy, shouldn’t we provide them with ways to ease their pain and improve their lives in their golden years?
Canine Arthritis Management
Canine Arthritis Resources and Education
Thank you to Dr. Patrice Mich at the Canine Rehabilitation Institute and the Pain Management Continuing Education Course for her wise words and inspiration for this Blog Post.
Disclaimer: Information shared on this website is solely for educational purposes. None of the content is meant to diagnose or treat individual animals. If you have questions or concerns about your pet, it is important to address those with your veterinarian. Information on this website is not intended to replace your relationship with your veterinarian but rather is designed to help facilitate discussions about the best treatments for your pet. The authors are not responsible for any harm or injury that may result. Significant injury risk is possible if you do not follow due diligence and seek suitable professional advice about your pet's injury. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied on this website.