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She spends more time snoozing in her bed. She lags behind on walks. She’s less interested in her
toys. She doesn’t jump up on the bed anymore. Could these be signs that your pet has
arthritis? Could she have some other health condition? Or is she just
slowing down with age?
It can be difficult for a pet owner to know exactly what is going on with one's beloved
dog or cat. While some arthritic pets may show obvious signs, such as a
limp, the signs of pain are often more subtle and easily mistaken for those of many other health conditions.
That’s why, if you suspect your pet
might be in pain, you should seek veterinary help as soon as possible. Your veterinarian can determine if it really is arthritis, or another condition, and recommend the right treatment to help your pet be more comfortable.
While there are different types of arthritis, the most common is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis is a painful, progressive disease that can affect one or more
joints, such as the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and areas of the spine.
Usually, it starts when some kind of stress damages the protective layer of cartilage covering the bone within the joint. This can result from trauma or joint instability, or from an underlying orthopedic condition, such as
hip dysplasia. In some cases, it occurs with age.
The damaged cartilage releases enzymes that can lead to inflammation. And the underlying bone responds by producing extra bone around the margins where the injury occurred.
Obesity can put extra stress on the joint, further exacerbating the problem.
The pain comes from the nerve endings in the exposed bone and from the inflamed tissues in and around the joint, including the ligaments, tendons and joint capsule. To help reduce pain, your pet may favor that joint or simply be less active, which can lead to muscle wasting and reduced overall mobility.
The signs can vary, depending on the joints affected and the severity of
the disease. Your dog may lag behind on walks or even show a periodic limp. Often, she may struggle when trying to rise from a resting position. She may appear stiff, especially in the morning, but may improve as the day goes on.
If she goes on a longer walk than usual or plays an extended game of
fetch, it may take her longer to recover. You may notice that she’s more hesitant to climb or descend stairs, or she may be more reluctant to jump
into or out of the car, or onto and off of furniture.
cats are generally better at
masking pain or illness than dogs, for many years, it was assumed that cats weren’t affected by
arthritis. But now we know that isn’t true.
Unlike dogs, cats are less likely to show an obvious limp. Instead, you might notice that your cat doesn’t jump to the heights she used to. She may use other objects, such as a footstool, to help her reach the couch. And she may slowly ease herself off the table instead of leaping to the floor.
You might notice that your
cat grooms herself less, often resulting in mats of fur forming. Or she may be more irritable when petted in certain areas, such as the lower back. She may also have accidents
outside the litterbox if the sides of the box are too high, or she needs to go up or down stairs to reach the box.
Because the signs of arthritis can be similar to those of other medical conditions, the right diagnosis is important to make sure your pet receives the most effective treatment.
Vague signs, such as a general decrease in activity, could be the result of many diseases. But even more specific signs, such as periodic limping or a decrease in jumping, can be associated with other medical conditions including:
Your veterinarian will start by taking a thorough medical history and performing a physical exam. She may recommend
blood tests and other diagnostics to help rule out other diseases.
X-rays are often helpful in diagnosing arthritis, but other tests, such as an analysis of joint fluid, may also be recommended.
Although there’s no cure for arthritis; your veterinarian can recommend ways to help
reduce the pain, slow the progression of disease and help your pet be more comfortable. That way, your pet will be more likely to feel up to more of the toy-chasing, walking and snuggling-on-the-couch activities that make you both happy.
More on Vetstreet:
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