Treatment options to help your arthritic pet feel more comfortable
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints and can have many underlying causes including prior injury, degenerative disease and developmental disorders.
Although arthritis is more common in older animals, it can affect even young and middle aged animals too.
Special diets and dietary supplements
There are some veterinary prescription diets that are formulated specifically to help support joint function and help reduce inflammation. There are also supplements that you can add to an animal’s food that can help to fulfil the same purpose. However, the diets may be more successful as they have been specially formulated to have the correct components and ratios to give the best effect. Special diets and dietary supplements are unlikely to be adequate as the sole treatment in more severe or advanced cases of arthritis. However, they can be an excellent addition to other treatments and may even help to slow down the degenerative process in inflamed joints, so the earlier in the process they are started the better. This management option is safe to be used in conjunction with most other treatments.
Pentosan polysulfate sodium injections (or other similar products)
This product protects and helps cartilage repair and also has anti-inflammatory properties. This treatment consists of a course of injections that your veterinarian can give to your animal. It is safe to be used in conjunction with most other treatments.
Most animals tolerate acupuncture very well and it has been shown to reduce pain and increase endorphin release in arthritic pets. Acupuncture may help to reduce or eliminate the need to use prescription medications to treat arthritis; this can be very important in animals that have medical conditions that make the prescription medications use to treat arthritis unsafe for them. Acupuncture can be performed in combination with other treatments.
The pain and inflammation of arthritis are made worse if your animal is carrying extra weight. Low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming (for those animals that are happy to swim!) combined with an appropriate diet is extremely beneficial to arthritic animals. Helping an overweight arthritic animal to reach an ideal weight can make a big difference to how he/she copes with his/her arthritis.
The most common treatments used for arthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), though other options are available. These are very effective medications but remember that, like any medication, NSAIDs are not without side effects. Animals with liver or kidney problems are particularly at risk and your veterinarian will want to check your animal’s liver and kidney status prior to starting treatment and monitor this regularly for as long as your animal is on the medication. This will likely involve blood and urine tests as well as regular check-ups. Never give your pet any over-the-counter human medications. Many of those that are safe for humans are very dangerous for our animals. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your animal but always try to use other methods to minimise the need for prescription medications if you can.
Make sure that your pet is kept warm and dry, especially when it is cold
Coats and jackets are available to keep your animal warm and there are cosy and even special heated pet beds available. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations as not all products are safe and you do not want to unintentionally cause burns to your pet.
Soft and padded resting areas
Arthritic animals will be more comfortable if they have a bed (or more than one!) that has plenty of padding for sore joints and that will also keep them warm. This should be away from any draughts and off the floor, but not so high that it is difficult to get to.
Take care with exercising your pet
Arthritic and elderly animals may have more difficulty walking on slippery surfaces such as wet ground, snow or ice. They may be more prone to slipping and falling. So take care when walking your animal, go slowly, and avoid slippery areas.
Make getting around easy
Most arthritic and elderly animals will have difficulty getting up to and down from higher places (for example, into the car and onto the bed) and up or down stairs. Therefore, it can be very helpful to provide your animal with a ramp or some other way to more easily and safely get to those places that they find difficult to reach.
There are many approaches to managing arthritis and usually the most success is achieved by combining more than one of the above management suggestions.
The good news is that, with your veterinarian’s help, there is a lot you can do to improve your arthritic animal’s quality of life.