As we now know, arthritis is far more common than we realize and most pets suffer in silence; crying and lameness are not typically or always seen in pets who suffers from arthritis: https://www.fvah.ca/2015/05/06/6-clues-that-your-pet-may-have-arthritis/
But this blog we want to focus on the things you can do to help keep your senior pet comfortable. Arthritis may be an incurable condition, but by implementing a multi-modal treatment plan one can greatly improve comfort and quality of life of an arthritic pet. Multimodal therapy combines more than one method of treatment to achieve the desired result, and as with other medical issues in both people and pets, by using a multimodal approach we can often achieve a better response than by using one line of therapy alone.
- Weight Loss
Since excess weight places extra stress on already sore joints, one of the best things we can do for our seniors, which is also often one of the hardest, is to make sure your pet losses those extra pounds. The longer our pets remain overweight the worse the arthritic pain will be! So this is tough love!!!
But what diet? Well I would check with your veterinarian first before changing any seniors diet! Some formulas may not be appropriate for some senior’s age or health status. As well it is never recommended to do sudden changes in diet.
Can diet make a difference – simply stated YES. I have seen pets have an improved quality of life with just weight loss and a proper diet. I have one cat whose owner reported how by just putting her on Mobility diet by Royal Canin she was jumping again. No Medication Needed! With my own Maggie, I was able to decrease her pain medication by using J/D by Hill’s.
- Controlled Exercise
Exercise is essential to quality of life in our pets and this is especially true in our seniors! Exercise increases blood flow to the tissues to help remove toxins, it prevents obesity, stimulates their brain to help prevent dementia, helps bowel function, strengthens muscles and keeps tendons & ligaments flexible!
BUT we must do it right! Warm up and Cool down are both essential. Depending on your pet, Passive Range of Motion exercises, warming the joints (BE CAREFUL NOT TO BURN THE SKIN!) or a slow flat walk can be possible warm ups. Low impact exercises such as walks or swimming are great forms of exercise for our seniors. Walking 30 minutes a day is a goal but for many seniors it is less stressful on their joints to do 3 ten-minute walks rather than one 30-minute walk. NEVER START WITH AN EXTENSIVE WORK OUT PROGRAM – always gradually increase the exercise. If your pet is sore the next day then decrease the amount of exercise.
Ice joints after exercise can help reduce inflammation and pain.
- Environmental Adjustments
There are many ways to alter a pet’s home to help reduce arthritis pain and make movement within their environment easier.
- Cats – cut a low opening to litter box and choose a location for easy access (not in the basement).
- Make/buy steps for small dogs and cats to get on and off of furniture. Ramps for larger dogs to help with stairs and vehicles
- Soft Beds – Sometimes you have to find the one your pet likes. Round beds were too short for my Griffon – he was not comfortable having to curl up – the big rectangle ones or orthopedic foam was his choice!
- HEATED BEDS!!
- Make sure your pet’s bed is in a draft free location.
- NON-SLIP carpet runners, yoga mats, and/or throw rugs on those slippery floors
- Elevate their food & water bowls
- It may be time for your pet to become fashionable. Keeping the joints warm will keep your pet more comfortable so use a sweater or coat! Jake was my first senior dog who lived to be16 –he got his first fleece lined rain coat at 12 and there was a noticeable difference in both his demeanor and obvious comfort level.
- Joint supplements
We believe that all seniors should be on essential fatty acids (DHA & EPA). Besides helping the heart, skin, coat, kidneys AND brain, we know that Omega 3 and 6 FA have marked anti-inflammatory effects when added to the diet in proper levels. Though most diets contain Omega 3 &6 FA, unless you are feeding J/D from Hill’s, I recommend supplementing, as the diets do not contain high enough levels.
Other options that can be used include nutraceuticals (nutrients with medicinal properties: Glucosamine, Cartrophen). As these are not classified as a drug, rigorous testing to show effeicacy and determine optimal dosing has not been done. Anecdotally we have found some animals do improve with the use of nutraceutical especially in the early stages. As well, we often find we can decrease the dose of other medications when we combine nutraceuticals with traditional pharmaceuticals.
What an easy why to help your pet! After all we have to feed them everyday so why not feed them a diet that can actually help their joints? Hill’s J/D diet has been clinically proven to help increase mobility and flexibility in both dogs and cats. My Maggie was one of the trial dogs when the diet was first developed. After six weeks on the diet not only did she improve clinically, but she also was moving better at home and starting to walk up & down our hill again. Another great joint diet is Mobility from Royal Canin which contains green lipped muscle enzyme. My Jordan, who is 12 and not showing arthritic signs at this time, is eating Mobility. I started her on the diet as I know how stoic dogs can be and wanted to make sure she was getting some help for her aging joints before I could physically see a change. Winston, at 4 is also on the diet as radiographs revealed he has hip dysplasia.
- Pain Medications
We now have many options available to us to help keep pets comfortable. But as aging pets often have medical conditions that may affect the metabolism and excretion of these medications, it is important that physical exams and blood work is done routinely to ensure that we are not doing harm.
- Alternative Therapies
ACUPUNCTURE– Many animals benefit from the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture. Thousands of years of clinical practice along with modern research have shown that each acupoint possesses special therapeutic effects. Some dogs experience less pain following treatment, allowing a decrease in the use of NSAIDS. This is particularly helpful in dogs with decreased kidney or liver function. Remember Placebo effect doesn’t work in dogs!
COLD LASER THERAPY -The cold laser therapy or low- level laser therapy is a noninvasive procedure that uses focused light to stimulate cells and affect cellular metabolism. Lasers have been shown to increases blood circulation, decreases nerve sensitivity and inflammation thus reducing pain. The procedure also releases endorphins, natural painkillers! Check out this article by ABC news…
PHYSIO THERAPY & MASSAGE – Aging can be a bit of a vicious cycle! With age we see a loss of muscle tone & balance that can lead to inactivity. The inactivity can then result in further loss of muscle mass which results in a further loss of stability and an increase risk of slips, falls, strains and sprains. So we want to do exercises to improve strength, balance and stability.
- Passive Range of Motion Exercises – PROM exercises are performed on a pet while she is lying down on her side in a comfortable position. Limbs are gently flexed and extended one at a time. Each position is held for about 10 seconds. It’s important to keep the leg’s position parallel to the body wall to avoid torque on the joints. It’s also important not to hyperextend the wrists or ankles.
- Balance Exercise – Cookie Reach – The cookie reach exercise starts with a dog in a standing position. The goal is to have the dog reach for the cookie without taking any steps. Move the cookie so as to encourage the dog to stretch in different directions without stepping. The dog is rewarded with the treat when he achieves the desired position. The exercise can be made more challenging by requiring the dog to hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds. Check out this great video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dcYVODa2RQ
- Strengthening Exercises – Sit to Stands, Side Steps, Hill Sits – all can help target the large muscle groups. Talk to your veterinarian to have a specific exercise program developed for your pet.
- Massage – Using slow gentle strokes and gentle kneading, pet massage can help keep muscles tones, improve circulation, ease the stiffness to promote ease of movement. Check out this great Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tghk42R0QHU
STEM CELL THERAPY – Presently this therapy is still questionable and expensive. There are few good studies and really only anecdotal reports thus additional investigations and clinical trials to establish safety and efficacy are also necessary before routine clinical application is recommended. Fortunately it appears that interest is great and studies are underway.