Arthritis is a disease of the joints, which can affect many dogs and cats. Large breed dogs are the most susceptible to arthritis, but any size dog can develop this problem with their joints. Trauma directly to a joint will make that joint more likely to become arthritic. Diseases also exist in younger dogs that will make them more likely to develop arthritis. Hip Dysplasia, Osteochondrosis Dessicans (O.C.D.), and Anconeal Processes (U.A.P.) are just some of the culprits. Nearly any joint can be affected. Even cats can get arthritis! But since cats are quite good at masking pain, it is often overlooked.
The symptoms of arthritis are swelling and pain in a joint. Typically, the swelling is not seen or able to be felt, but can be detected with radiographs (X-rays). Dogs and cats do not typically cry or vocalize when they are in pain from arthritis. Most often we see a pet become less active, sleep more and sometimes favor a leg by limping or actually holding a limb up while walking. The pet may hesitate before going down stairs, become disinterested to go on a walk (when they normally would be), or may be reluctant to play and tire easily.
With an examination, we are often able to tell if arthritis is likely to be present, or if there is some other kind of joint or bone disease occurring. Sometimes, radiographs are necessary to determine if arthritis is present. The radiographs will also tell us how severe the arthritis may be. Such information will allow us to tailor a pet’s treatment to their level of disease and discomfort.
To treat arthritis, there are a number of things in our arsenal. Many of the things that reduce pain and increase your pet’s mobility are neither complex nor expensive. Below is a list of things that may help your pet:
- Weight loss – Animals with arthritis need to be slightly thin rather than overweight. Extra weight is difficult for the painful joints to carry. If your dog is actually obese, we can put them on a diet and exercise program to lose weight. We even have a medication that helps obese dogs lose weight!
- Exercise – It has been shown that arthritic joints need activity. With lack of exercise, the joints get stiffer and thus more painful. Obese dogs should not be run, but they can be taken for a walk around the house. As they lose weight, the walk can become quicker. Swimming is a great exercise for dogs with mild to moderate arthritis. There is no trauma to the joints, and dogs actually use a greater range of motion to swim than they do walking. It is an ideal exercise, but care must be taken to be sure the dog doesn’t overdo it! Exercise will strengthen the muscles and joints.
- Trim the toenails & foot hair – Long toenails will change how a dog stands and place extra stress along the back of the leg. Long nails will also make it harder for your dog to walk in linoleum, wood floors or other slippery flooring. Long hair on the bottom of a dog’s feet will also make it much harder for the dog to walk on slippery surfaces. When this happens, the pet tenses up and puts extra stress on the joints and makes it much harder to walk. Most groomers will trim the hair on the bottoms of your dog’s feet. If you like, we can even show you how to do it, yourself!
- Medications – There are a variety of medications that will decrease the pain and inflammation of a dog’s arthritic joints. There are not nearly as many medications that are safe for cats. For the dogs though, if the first medication doesn’t work, a different medication might. We can usually find a medication that will help. Sometimes a combination of medications is needed to make a dog comfortable. In most dogs, the medications we use are very safe. Reactions do happen, but most dogs do quite well on the drugs we use. Do not use any human medications without asking us. Some medications can be toxic to dogs. Medications, such as Tylenol, are so toxic to cats that they will kill most cats. Always call and ask before giving any medication to your pet.
- Joint supplements – Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are frequently given to animals – and people – a combination of these two compounds to decrease inflammation in the joints and “feed” the cartilage. Scientific studies do not consistently support that these supplements do as advertised, but the studies do show that the supplements are safe and tend to say they may help some animals. There is an injectable medication in this group that has stood up to rigorous studies to show that it does help many dogs. They are lest worth trying in most dogs. They are even present in many large breed dog foods.
There are many things we can do to help your arthritic pet. Schedule and appointment today so we can start making your pet feel better now!
There is a great deal of confusion, misconceptions and misinformation about pet foods. Some of the problem is “old information” and some is outright false advertising. There are still some things that we are unsure about with animal nutrition. Yet, we do know a great deal about nutrition for our pets.
Despite the pet food recalls, manufactured pet foods are still the safest, most-balanced and also most economical foods available for our pets. Even still, not all diets are the same! Nor are all diets safe! Just as with human diets, pet foods go through fads, as well. The good diets remain and continue to improve while the fad diets come and go. As with human diets, most of the fads are not necessarily a good idea.
Raw food diets are one of the current fad diets. Contrary to what you may hear or read, there is absolutely no good, scientific data that proves uncooked food is in any way healthier or more nutritious than a cooked diet. The “reasoning” use by people who push these diets sounds good, but just doesn’t hold up to science. Not only are these diets not equivalent in nutrition, but they can also be downright dangerous for animals. Raw meat can carry quite a number of bacteria that can be harmful to your pet AND to you! Dogs and cats can get sick from Salmonella, E.coli, Clostridium, and a number of other bacteria – just like you can! They are absolutely NOT resistant to these bacteria. Even more concerning is that though your pet may not become ill from Salmonella in their diet, they will shed the bacteria in their stool and harbor the bacteria in their gum tissue. Thus, when your dog licks your hands or face, YOU are being exposed to Salmonella!
Organic diets are another fad. Since organic diets are not regulated by any board or the FDA, nearly anyone can claim their diet is organic regardless of how it is made or where its ingredients come from. Once again, these diets are not shown – in anyway – to be superior to “non-organic” diets. Just because a diet contains natural fruits or vegetables does not mean that it is balanced and nutritious for a dog or cat. Cats are carnivores, so you can usually be certain that any diet “loaded with fruits and vegetables” is not going to be balanced for a cat.
Generally speaking, you do get what you pay for in pet foods. The good news is that you actually feed less food with the better quality diets, because of higher digestibility. Store brands of diets are just generics. Most often these brands are not of the highest quality. Celebrity endorsed diets are not necessarily quality, either. Very small companies will sometimes vary the recipes of their diets as the price of a particular ingredient goes up in price.
So what are the important things that make a diet good? There is not a simple, fast way to tell, unfortunately! You cannot compare diets simply by the Guaranteed Analysis or just by the ingredient list which is printed on the bag or can of food. Though those two portions of the label do give you some insight and are important with for pets with food allergies, they do not tell the whole story. We also know that all ingredients are not the same. There are differences in the quality of ingredients. A simple trip to the grocery store will prove that point. Quality diets have quality ingredients and a formulation that incorporates good, rationale, scientific data.
Look for a national brand of food that has been around for a little while. The product should be very digestible, have no dyes in them and typically have added vitamins. Often these vitamins are in the ingredient list in the form of their chemical names. Diets for large breed dogs will often have glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate added to promote good joint health. If your pet has special needs in food, the diet should reflect that. Animals that are overweight need diets with fewer calories, etc.
Your veterinarian is a very good source for recommendations on diet. The nutritional education of your veterinarian far outstrips that of the person at the pet food store. When you get to the store with your veterinarian’s recommendations, do not be swayed by the “it’s just as good as” that you may frequently hear. Quality food leads to a healthier, happier pet. If you do have questions about diets, call us. We are happy to discuss them. Some of the better diets out are Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba, and Royal Canin. When in doubt, feel free to ask us!
Here's some great information about interpreting pet food labels: http://www.fda.gov/cvm/petlabel.htm