The cold weather makes all of us more achy and stiff – and the same is true of our pets. Older dogs especially may struggle on slippery ice or mud, and running on hard frozen ground puts even more strain on joints.
Arthritis is common in dogs and cats of all ages; but is especially prevalent in older pets. Although a variety of factors contribute to the development of arthritis, the end result is a loss of the smooth cartilage lining the ends of the bones. The bones rub together, causing pain, and the joints become misshapen and knobbly due to the chronic inflammation.
Arthritis causes lameness due to pain and reduced range of movement of the joints. Affected pets are in pain all the time they are moving: they may not yelp or show obvious signs of pain, because the pain is a chronic dull ache most of the time.
So: what can be done to help? Quite a lot actually. Your vet may want to take X-rays to see which joints are affected and how badly. In most cases, medication (anti-inflammatories) may be prescribed: either a short course, to reduce inflammation and pain, or else as a long-term treatment. There are many other pain medications which can be given if these are not effective enough. Joint supplements may also be of benefit: and keeping your pet’s weight down will be very important. Physiotherapy is often a great help: sometimes you, the owner, can do this at home; at other times your vet may refer your pet for physiotherapy, acupuncture or hydrotherapy. Laser therapy is becoming more popular, with an increasing wealth of evidence to support its use.
In more severe cases, surgery may be an option: either joint replacement or fusion, or cartilage implant surgery. A small number of veterinary surgeries, such as my own, are now also offering stem cell therapy. Known as regenerative medicine, this involves a small operation to harvest special cells (stem cells) from your pet, and then injecting them into affected joints. These stem cells have the ability to grow into cartilage cells that can reform the joint; in some cases completely reversing the signs of arthritis.
To sum up – there are lots of options for treating arthritis and your vet will be happy to talk to you about them. Remember: lameness is always a sign of pain – not just a consequence of getting old!