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Joint Issues

old dog with stiff joints

The joint (the bodily kind (oops! did we just say that?!)) is the hard-working connection where two bones meet and acts as a kind of shock absorber, with the help of the muscles and cartilage. There's little wonder our flexible felines and energetic canines are prone to developing joint issues in later life, given the natural process of aging combined with all their jumping and running around. But (there's always a darn "but", isn't there), it's not just in later life that joint issues arise, particularly with some breeds of dog.


What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is the most common joint issue that pets develop. It's also called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease and happens when the smooth cartilage cushioning and protecting joint bones starts wearing away. Once the bones are exposed, continuous wear and tear will, over time, make activity painful as the joints become inflamed. Sounds like a bit of a grind, right? (Just couldn't resist that one.)


Cat Symptoms

Because cats are a bit shy about sharing their pain, they're harder to diagnose with joint issues than dogs. Also, young cats seldom develop arthritis- it's pretty much an age thing with furry Felix, which is good 'cos you know when (from the age of 5) to be on the look-out for issues and how to treat them. If any of these symptoms ring any bells, joint issue could be cramping your feline's style - time for a visit to the vet.

  • Becoming socially withdrawn.
  • Not jumping up as much.
  • Not able to get into the litter box.
  • Tired a lot of the time.
  • Not grooming as much or licking/gnawing on a specific area, as if in pain.


Treatment for Cats

It's not really an unexpected surprise to hear that overweight cats are more prone to developing joint issues, is it? So diet and weight-watching are both a preventative and a treatment for cats, especially from middle age. (There's that pesky midlife crisis cropping up again.) Once degenerate joint disease has set in, there isn't a cure, but there's plenty that can help put the frisk back into Frisky.

  • Weight loss (we might have mentioned that).
  • Prescription pain medication from the vet.
  • Nutritional supplements to help keep the shock absorber lubricated (i.e. replenish the cartilage).


Dogs and Joint Issues

Big dogs such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds and Burmese Mountain Dogs can be susceptible to joint issues from an early age. In fact, because of the heritability of certain joint problems, it's possible to do a screening of the parents of a puppy you get in order to check for joint issues, if you're at all concerned. Some dogs are born with hipdysplasia (for example) and this you'll notice if they are in pain or have gait (walking) problems from a young age. This needs to be managed with help from your vet and in some cases can be corrected surgically.

What really makes a difference to puppies in the first year of their lives (and we can't stress this enough) is nutrition. The RIGHT nutrition. "Big dog" puppies (sounds like a bit of a contradiction :-) )should be fed a large-breed puppy food or even a breed-specific puppy food until they are 18 months old. Follow the feeding instructions to the letter which means... (pause for emphasis...) no treats. The reason for this is if your playful puppy is overfed he may put on additional weight and grow  too quickly, putting additional stress on the joints which can develop into a problem. In older dogs, from 5 years onwards, think about swapping their food for a good quality senior pet food, which should automatically have joint supplements in it.


Dog Symptoms

Common canine signs of arthritis include:

  • Limping.
  • Walking abnormally.
  • Finding it hard to get up combined with stiffness.
  • Doesn't want to jump into the car or go up and down stairs.
  • Irritability or aggression.
  • Pain when petted.


Treatment for Dogs

Firstly, diagnosis and treatment should be given by your VFF (Vet Friend Forever) and not yourself; there are stories of people treating dogs with aspirin which is a no-no, ok? Here are the things your VFF will help you with, with regard to treatment:

  • Weight loss (see above with cats).
  • Oral Disease-Modifying Osteoarthritis Medication - it's a bit of a mouthful (excuse the pun)but there are a wide range of different treatments which can be very effective.
  • Anti-inflammatory Drugs.
  • Exercise - daily (i.e. regularly, not intermittently), but the amount needs to be determined by the level of degenerate joint disease your doggie has.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and other supplements can help.


Wrapping It Up

For both cats and dogs with joint issues it's important that they keep warm (they do suffer more in the colder months) and in a protected sleeping area, so their bed (you can get orthopaedic foam mattresses (just saying)) should be a real comfort-zone for them.

Although arthritis doesn't present itself with external fireworks, the fireworks might well be going off inside their bones. Don't make the mistake of thinking Rover is just getting old and that it's just part of life (although he is, and it is). Just as you'd get treatment for joint problems, there are simple supplements that could make all the difference to your precious pet's quality of life and that's good news. Just the way we like it.

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