Is your elderly pooch or kitty slowing down? Is he or she reluctant to jump onto the bed lately? These could be signs of degenerative joint disease, more commonly referred to as arthritis.
Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joints, and leads to pain and reduced function of the joint. Arthritis can occur for two main reasons: either secondary to an injury or as a developmental problem which places abnormal pressures on joints. An example of a condition that can lead to arthritis is cruciate ligament rupture in the stifle (knee) and fractures involving the joint. This form of arthritis usually only affects the joint involved, and is often accompanied by muscle wastage around the joint which is in obvious contrast to the opposite limb. The pet will often be lame in the affected limb.
Another common form of arthritis is old-age related degeneration, which affects several joints and is a more gradual onset problem. This usually becomes evident in elderly pets, and symptoms include:
- Stiffness after a period of sitting or sleeping which usually improves with some activity- ie. they ‘warm out of it’.
- Reluctance or difficulty climbing stairs or jumping.
- In dogs, there may be a reduced ability or enthusiasm to go for walks.
- Muscle wastage, particularly in the hind-limbs.
Arthritis rarely occurs for other reasons such as infectious disease or immune mediated conditions, where the immune system becomes overactive.
The first step when you notice signs of arthritis in your pet is to take him or her to the vet. The vet will examine the pet, observe him or her walking and may suggest tests such as X-rays. The next step is medication to reduce inflammation, resolve pain and improve quality of life. Arthritis is not curable but there are many medications available to keep your buddy comfortable for as long as possible.
What do you think? Would you recommend heavy medication, or is it too much for an old pet and perhaps they should just live out the remainder of life in peace? Please contribute your thoughts and opinions on how you would handle this illness with an aging pet.