General stiffness, slowing down, difficulty rising… Is it just old age? Our senior pets may show subtle signs or be quite obvious in their attempts to tell us about their problems. One of these problems that we commonly see is arthritis. Signs may include lameness in one or more legs, difficulty getting up in the morning, swollen or misshapen joints, or changes in behaviour indicating pain (lethargy or grumpiness in a previously well-tempered animal). Arthritis can affect both dogs and cats although cats are often better at hiding the pain. They may show more behavioural changes than dogs, with reduced activity or a reluctance to jump, lack of grooming in specific areas of the body as they find it hard to reach, or a seemingly poor appetite as they are reluctant to seek out a food bowl or jump up to an area they have previously been fed on (top of the freezer/washing machine etc).
Arthritis may be diagnosed by your vet during a clinical examination or annual health check, but will sometimes require x-rays to find or determine the extent and exact location. Often there is a slow onset of changes and these can be difficult to notice when you are seeing your animals every day. As age increases, the likelihood of arthritis also increases but we occasionally see problems in younger animals due to some underlying cause, such as a previous injury or joint surgery, poor conformation, or diseases such as hip or elbow dysplasia. As the condition progresses, the joints become worn and the smooth cartilage layer covering the end of the bone becomes thin and damaged. The bone also reacts by growing extra ridges or small spurs around the joint.
Thin cartilage and misshapen joints become very uncomfortable and it is important to remember that arthritis can be a source of chronic pain for our pets. Fortunately we have plenty of treatment options available and can tailor a treatment plan that best suits your cat or dog. Because arthritis is a long term condition it requires monitoring to ensure that the plan is working – sometimes the treatments need adjusting to provide an adequate level of pain control without any untoward side effects from long term medications.