Indoor Cats—not as safe as you think!

Indoor catMany cat owners have pets that are strictly kept indoors.This leads to a common misconception that these felines don’t need regular veterinary care as they are not exposed to as many environmental factors as their outdoor counterparts. According to the veterinarians at Catalina Pet Hospital in Tucson, AZ, this is profoundly untrue.

Indoor cats may not face all of the same risks as outdoor cats, but there are many factors that are unavoidable and can only be detected with proper, regular veterinary care. Some of the more prevalent feline ailments include: dental disease, cancer, and arthritis—just to name a few.

Dental disease is a commonly overlooked condition as it can be difficult to both check and clean a cat’s teeth. Studies show, however, that over 70% of pets over three years old have had some degree of dental disease. Dental disease is painful and progressive. If left untreated, it is possible for the pet to lose all of its teeth as well as developing further complications.

Cancer in felines, though not as common as in canines, is still a very real threat, One of the most common forms of feline cancer is lymphoma—which can be caused by the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Feline leukemia can be prevented through an annual vaccination for it. Signs of cancer can include lethargy, weight loss, hair loss, and even vomiting or diarrhea—therefore, any of these symptoms should provoke a visit to the veterinarian.

Lastly, arthritis is an extremely common ailment among cats; in fact, 90% of cats over 12 have some degree of arthritis. It can be tricky to notice a change in a cat’s behavior as they typically get arthritis on both sides at the same time, and so, will not be favoring one leg or side.

In general, cats tend to be very private animals and do not demonstrate or vocalize pain the way that dogs and people do. Without the help of a veterinarian, diagnosis can be near impossible, and suffering drawn out. Regular veterinary care will help to prevent unnecessary discomfort and help promote a long and healthy life for the animal.

Arthritis? Are you crazy? My dog is only 5 years old!

Most of us have had dogs in our home that reach that ripe old age where they start to slow down.  Sometimes it’s difficulty getting up, sometimes it’s simply having less interest in longer walks. Osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease, DJD) is a progressive condition that will affect most of our pets at some point in their life states Dr. Jonathan Smith, VMD, from Larkin Veterinary Center from West Lawn, PA.  Common signs of the joint pain associated with DJD include difficulty rising or climbing stairs, difficulty getting in and out of cars or onto furniture, limping, and  having an abnormal gait.  It is important to recognize the early signs of DJD and it’s causes so you can help to limit the impact of this disease as your dog ages. In normal joints in a dog, cat, or person, the articulating bones move smoothly and comfortably against each other, allowing easy movement. The key to this smooth joint operation is cartilage, which covers the surface of both bones where they come into contact.  Cartilage is a soft rubbery tissue that acts as lubrication and a shock absorber.  When damaged, or worn down through a lifetime of use, joints no longer work so smoothly.  In addition, the body’s natural inflammatory response also slowly contributes to the chronic changes in any joint with DJD. You might ask yourself, then, “why does my dog have arthritis while other dogs of the same age appear to be unaffected?” The simple answer is that size matters.  There are many potential risk factors for any dog that can make them more or less likely to acquire DJD at any age, most of which are related to how much weight the joints have to support:

  • Being a Large or Giant Breed: Larger breeds of dogs simply weigh more, and daily exercise causes more trauma to their joints than with a smaller dog. Many larger breeds are also predisposed to abnormal joint conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cruciate injuries, and other conditions discussed below.
  • Obesity: Even if your dog is not a larger breed, if they are overweight it will cause more trauma to their joints during their normal routine.
  • Joint Instability: Normal cartilage can be damaged when joint surfaces don’t line up properly or wear unevenly. The most common conditions of joint instability in dogsinclude:
    • Hip Dysplasia: Common to many larger breeds, this is a condition where the hip joint does not form appropriately. Similar to people, the hip joint in dogs is made up of a ball (at the top of the femur) and socket (of the pelvis). Dogs with hip dysplasia often have a shallow socket resulting in limited contact between ball and socket, and also excess laxity.  Both of these allow the ball of the femur to pop in and out of the joint easily.
    • Elbow Dysplasia: Also affecting many larger breeds, this condition can be caused by a number of abnormalities of the bones that make up the elbow, resulting in poor joint alignment .
    • Cruciate Tear: While cartilage ensures smooth operation of the joints, ligaments hold the joints together, ensuring correct alignment. Like football players, larger dogs are prone to tearing their crainal cruciate ligament (CCL) which leads to instability in their knee.
    • Luxating Patellas: While larger dogs are more likely to suffer from dysplasia and ligament tears, smaller dogs can have kneecap problems. Usually affecting smaller breeds, this condition causes the kneecap to pop in and out of place (usually inward), which can result in  abnormal function and wear and tear.

How can you minimize the impact of DJD in your dog?  For any  larger dog, or any dog who already has osteoarthritis, the most important thing you can do is to keep them as lean as possible, so as to limit the trauma to their joints. In addition, most of the above conditions can be successfully corrected surgically.  If done early enough, this can significantly reduce future joint damage. If your dog already has DJD, don’t feel helpless! There are many options out there to help slow the progression of their osteoarthritis and help control their pain, including:

  • Controlled Exercise: While it may seem counter-intuitive, exercise is actually very important to keeping the muscles that support the joints strong. Low impact activities such as leashed daily walks, swimming, or even slow jogging are acceptable.
  • Weight Reduction: As discussed above, by keeping our pets lean we help to limit the impact on their joints. Feel free to ask your local veterinarian for guidance.
  • Supplements: Glucosamine/chondroitan sulfate, and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) in the correct proportions can help support joint health and also have anti-inflammatory properties. Many products or prescription diets (Hills J/D) are available at your veterinarian’s office or can be purchased over the counter.
  • Physical Therapy: There are many options for physical therapy for dogs with DJD.  Ask your veterinarian for more information and a referral.
  • Prescription Medications:  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Rimadyl or Dermaxx are safe and effective medications for dogs with DJD. When these medications are used long term, routine bloodwork should be performed to ensure adequate liver and kidney health. Other pain medications (tramadol, gabapentin) can also be effective, either on their own or in combination with NSAIDS.
  • Injectable Agents: Adequan acts to promote joint health and limits the breakdown of cartilage. Ask your veterinarian for details on this treament.

While osteoarthritis can sound like a horrible thing, it’s important to remember that there are many treatments that can help your dog feel more comfortable. The key to preventing this condition in your own dog is to recognize potential risk factors, and to look for early signs of DJD so that treatment can help to limit it’s progression. As always, your veterinarian can help you decide what treatment options are best for your own furry family member.

Submitted by:
Jonathan Smith, VMD
Larkin Veterinary Center
2333 Penn Avenue
West Lawn, PA 19609


My Dog’s Stiffness or Limping is Just Old Age, Right?

cat, feline, joints, stiffness

Gabe, a 16-year-old domestic short hair cat, lies on a heated blanket to help his joints feel better.

When senior pets come into our office for their annual wellness exam, we ask slightly different questions of our clients then we did when their pets were younger states Amanda L. Maus, DVM, at Catalina Pet Hospital in Tucson, AZ.  Is your pet having any trouble jumping – onto the couch or into the car?  Is your pet slow to get up in the morning after laying down for a long time?  Has your pet seemed to slow down over the past few months? Is your pet limping or extra tired after a long walk he or she used to be able to do with no problem?  Has your pet lost interest in playing? Is your pet slow to lay down or seems to have trouble getting comfortable ?

All of these questions are aimed at discovering signs of pain in your pet. Pets are stoic creatures and do not cry or limp unless the pain level is very high.  If your answer yes to at least one of these questions, your pet may be having signs of arthritis or degenerative joint disease.  An x-ray of your pet’s legs or spine can help determine the location and extent of the disease.  Luckily, we are able to address this disease with lifestyle changes and medications, similar to how it is treated in people.

First, we address your pet’s weight in the form of a body condition score on a scale of 1-5 or 1 – 9.  If your pet is overweight, we can discuss either a change in feeding the current diet or consider changing to lower calorie food.  Daily moderate exercise in the form of walking or swimming helps with maintaining an ideal body weight as well as helps keep the joints mobile.

dog, canine, senior, arthritis, joints
Kona, a 9-year-old Rottweiler, takes Dasuquin, Metacam and Tramadol for his arthritis.

Next, we consider the use of medications.  Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega 3 fatty acids are easy ways to help support the cartilage and natural lubrication of joints.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a great way to provide pain relief and decrease inflammation in the joints.  If additional pain relief is needed, we consider the use of opiate type medications and medications that directly act on nerve and chronic pain pathways.

Finally, at home you can consider massage and range of motion exercises of the affected joint. A heated blanket or bed with padded bedding can really help soothe sore joints.  Additional therapies, such as acupuncture, may also help.

Instead of just blaming old age, we can try different lifestyle changes and medications that can provide relief for your senior pet.  Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if you have noticed any of the above changes in your pet.  Together, we can develop a plan that is specific to your pets needs as they age.

Submitted by:

Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital
3801 East Fort Lowell Road
Tucson, AZ 85716