Battling Arthritis in winter! June 7, 2018 13:28

Winter’s certainly arrived right on time! Have you noticed the sudden chilly mornings? If you have a pet with arthritis, I’m betting that they noticed, even if you didn’t.  

Arthritis is something I see a lot of, as I travel around the suburbs visiting my lovely patients. As we are looking after our pets better, they are living longer lives, and so we see more of these aging related challenges than we used to. There is no cure for arthritis that has already developed, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do! Our approach is two pronged – 1. Try to improve the joint health and slow the progression of the condition, and 2. Alleviate pain and discomfort as needed. I think both aspects are vital if we are to provide a good quality of life for our elderly pets.

Before I get into anything else I really have to address the issue of weight. Many older pets are overweight, due to a combination of sedentary lifestyles with overly generous meal sizes and extra treats and tidbits. Maintaining a healthy weight is so important – it is the one most effective thing you can do. It makes it easier for them to move now, while also slowing the progression of the arthritic changes by reducing the load on those poor old joints. Overfeeding an elderly and arthritic pet is really killing them with kindness. There are quite a few diets formulated for this nowadays, so if you aren’t having any luck with your own efforts, give us a call and we can discuss options. And regular low impact exercise needs to be part of their daily routine also. 

Warmth and padding are going to make a difference too. Elderly pets will do better if they are up off the ground at night. Some are fine in a kennel or mattress style bed on a covered deck or verandah, others do best in the house. Bedding needs to be tailored to each individual – it’s often a matter of what they will or won’t use. You might need to experiment with a few different styles. Some love the sling type beds that have a low metal frame, others will struggle to get up and down from them. Some dogs like a soft mattress, others only lie on firm mattresses. You might want to consider warm clothing if your pet doesn’t have a double coat and won’t go into a covered kennel or bed.

There are a tonne of non prescription, joint support supplements and nutraceuticals available these days. Some have been around for a while, others have come and gone out of fashion, and some are definitely the flavour of the month! Every second person I see at the moment is into Rose Hip oil! A year or two ago it was Turmeric. Can these kinds of things help? Yes, I think so. Some have some scientific backing. Others don’t have the science behind them. Fish Oils, Marine Cartilage and GreenLipped mussels have been used for a long time in various formulations that are quite well known now. Sasha’s blend. Joint Guard. More recently 4cyte, which includes a plant extract as well, has proven to be quite effective. There are plenty of other brand names too. These are generally aimed at improving the health of the joints, as well as alleviating some of the inflammation involved. Have a chat with your vet if you want more information about these kinds of products. Remember weight loss is extremely important, so I would hesitate to give an obese patient any large amounts of any oil, as it is high in calorie and that is counterproductive. But these kinds of things are often a good starting point if your pet is just moving towards old age. They aren’t going to be able to keep a pet with advanced arthritis comfortable alone though.

Another tool we often consider, when trying to maintain the health of joints that are beginning to develop osteoarthritis, is a drug called Pentosan. This is given as a series of weekly injections for 4 weeks, followed by booster shots once every month or so. It is given subcutaneously, rather than into the joint directly, so is easily administered. It is not a fast acting painkiller, however after the first few weekly injections, pets are usually feeling more comfortable and so moving more normally and happily. It’s action is to stimulate cartilage synthesis and to prevent cartilage breakdown, so it helps to protect the joints, and reduces inflammatory byproducts in the joint fluid.

I think everybody agrees that the one thing we must never do is leave a pet in pain. It is inhumane. However it is often hard to tell - some pets are quite brave and don’t show us clear symptoms. Arthritis is such a gradual process that develops and progresses slowly and pets may have slowed down gradually over months or years. Many owners are either unaware of the changes, or just feel that the pet is aging, when it could actually be that they are suffering significant joint pain.

One way to test this is to provide a course of painkillers and assess whether the pet alters their behaviour at all. If they seem bouncier or more energetic, if they are more social or more interested in family interactions and activities, if they are able to walk further or more frequently whilst on these painkillers, then you know that they have been suffering pain, rather than just old age. In that case we can’t leave them in pain!! We have to provide ongoing relief for them.

There are numerous families or types of painkillers, and all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some of the well known brand names include Metacam and Rimadyl, but depending on concurrent illnesses and other individual considerations, vets may prescribe these or a range of other options. In some cases we use more than one type – a non steroidal anti-inflammatory for example, combined with an opioid. Some pets are able to live comfortably using medications intermittently – during Winter or around times of unusual exertion. Others need it daily. 

SO that’s an overview! My two main points that I hope you will take on board from this blog post are:

  1. Weight management matters a great deal and

  2. If your pet has “slowed down” or “aged” or “calmed down finally” they could be in pain! Don’t leave them in pain – if you’re unsure at all, see your vet.


Dr Amy Coles