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