February 2014

Cold Weather and Old Pets

Author: Stacy O'Quinn, DVM

We all notice it as we get older. The cold weather feels like it is seeping into our bones, making all those old injuries moan and groan. It’s the same for our four legged family members. They just don’t tell us as clearly.

How can you tell if your dog has arthritis? People often tell me their dogs aren’t painful because they don’t cry; but dogs generally cry only with surprising, sudden pain. They bear the chronic issues in silence. Larger dogs tend to struggle to stand up when they have been lying down. Where once they could hop up, seemingly on all four legs at the same time, now they get their front legs under them, lean forward, and eventually straighten their back legs under them. You may think old Fido is just slowing down, but he is actually showing you his discomfort. Smaller dogs tend to walk more “hunched” over in their back, with the hips tucked inward. Arthritis tends to manifest itself in the hips and knees, so their weight shifts toward the front, possibly with their heads held lower when walking. You may also note a straighter appearance to the rear legs, as they are guarding their sore knees.

How about cats? The most stoic of our domestic pets, cats cover up discomfort to the best of their ability. Often lameness is practically impossible to detect, even to the trained eye. An alteration in their usual behavior may be the only telltale sign. Cats may not jump on higher furniture as they once did. They may seek warm places to curl up and spend more time basking in the sun, letting the warmth soak into their aching muscles and joints. The astute observer may note a shorter stride in the feline gait. Unfortunately, some cats show their discomfort by defecating or urinating in the house because it is just too much trouble to climb in and out of that litter box.

So now that you know how to detect joint pain in your canine and feline friends, let’s discuss what we can do about it. My favorite first line of treatment is supplements. Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are commonly found in human and veterinary specific products. They are a safe way to give the body what it needs to put healthy cartilage back on those joint surfaces, allowing the joints to move more freely. Speaking of movement, exercise is a natural joint lubricant, keeping the joints fluid and more comfortable. So long leash walks with your dogs or “laser tag” play with your kitties can be a natural treatment. Therapeutic laser treatments, administered by your veterinarian, are also beneficial, stimulating the body’s natural healing abilities and increasing mobility and comfort.

More obvious mainstream treatments generally include prescription medications called non-steroidal anti inflammatories, or NSAIDs. Dog- and cat-specific products are available, and far preferable to human medications. When NSAIDs are not enough, stronger pain medications such as tramadol, gabapentin, and opiates can be used to keep our furry family members comfortable. Most important, never treat your pet with any medication or supplement without first discussing it with your veterinarian!

So ward off those cold weather maladies. Cuddle up in front of the fire with your purring bundle of comfort, make sure you are pressed up against your canine pal too, and stay warm this winter!

DR. Stacy O’Quinn practices veterinary medicine at Riverwalk Animal Hospital, located at 58 Browns Cove Rd. in Ridgeland. For more information, call (843) 987-0844 or visit riverwalkvets.com.

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