Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Senior Pets and Arthritis

November is known among veterinary circles, as “Senior Pet Month” so I thought it would be a good time to blog about senior pets.  Seniors are some of my favorite patients to treat. I think its because we now have many great options available for treating seniors for a variety of chronic problems that come with age. Working with owners of senior pets is especially rewarding and I love to hear progress reports about pets that have renewed energy and are able to jump and run like they haven’t in months or years. 

So what exactly qualifies as “senior” when we are talking about a cat or a dog? There are a variety of charts available and it does depend a little bit on the breed. Generally for cats I would consider above the age of 8 years to be senior. As for dogs smaller breeds can often live up to 15 or 16 so senior is usually about 8 and up.  For large and giant breeds some of the senior health problems develop a bit sooner so we might call 6 and up senior depending on the breed.  Of course each individual ages a bit differently so there is some variation.  If you are wondering about rabbits their average life span is 8-10 years (though some live longer!) so 6 years would also qualify as the beginning of their “golden years”.

This is my dog "Jaeger". He is 6.5 years old and I call him "late middle aged" As a larger breed he is prone to joint problems

Today I will outline one of the most common health problems in our senior patients:

Osteoarthritis (aka arthritis or degenerative joint disease):
Many people are familiar with this because it affects us (people) too! Osteoarthritis results from damage to the cartilage inside the joints. In senior pets this can be from wear and tear with age and is made worse if a pet is overweight or has any other joint problems (such as a torn cruciate ligament for example).  It is estimated that about 20% of all dogs suffer from arthritis (more would be in the senior category) and in senior cats the estimate ranges from 30-90%.  Signs in dogs include limping, difficulty rising, lagging behind on walks, and difficulty with stairs and jumping. In cats the signs are subtle but can include reluctance to jump up or down, changes to grooming patterns or just changes in behavior such as acting more withdrawn.   

When dealing with the early stages of arthritis I usually recommend starting pets on a joint supplement or a joint support diet. Green lipped muscle powder and fish oils are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to help with mobility in dogs and cats.  I like to start with supplementing the diet, as this is a safe option with few side effects. The joint support diets have high levels of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids as well as glucosamine and often also green-lipped muscle powders.  We find our patients do better on these diets, possibly because the supplements are best absorbed from food as opposed to in a pill.  There are also a few nutraceutical options that are showing promise in treating arthritis and can be worth asking your veterinarian about. I have used the product Cartrophen Vet in my own pets with great success.  These can also be a good option when looking for a treatment with very low risk of side-effects. 

 When diet and supplements are not enough we turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Meloxicam, Deramaxx and Rimadyl. They are very effective pain relievers and can really improve an animal’s quality of life. Like any drug they can have some mild side effects and long-term can have effects on the liver and the kidneys as well.  We will recommend blood work before and during treatment just to monitor organ function to make sure treatment is safe for your pet.  If a pet has liver or kidney disease then we can use different classes of pain medications to help with quality of life. The advantage of the anti-inflammatory class over other pain medications is that they actually work at the level of the joint and modify and slow the disease process rather than just treating the pain.

One important thing to note is that human over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and naproxen (Aleve), are not safe or recommended for cats and dogs and they can cause serious harm if given at the wrong dose. Don’t try to substitute a human medication that you think might be similar, as dogs and cats do not process drugs in the same way that the human body does.  Even aspirin can cause problems and there are safer more effective options for your pet. Check with your veterinarian before giving any pain medications!

For most of my patients, we are able to safely use a combination of the treatments I discussed to help keep them active and enjoying life for much longer. For me, helping to relieve chronic pain and get an animal back to enjoying life like they used to is one of the best parts of my job. 

Thanks for reading!
Dr Ingrid 

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