One of the common signs of ageing in pets, as in people, is the stiffness and discomfort of arthritis.
So why do older pets – and occasionally younger ones too – suffer from joint disease?
Most joint problems in pets are caused by osteoarthritis, the normal wear and tear that occurs as pets get older. Some forms of arthritis are caused by infection in joints, some by injuries, and some by immune system disease; but these are relatively uncommon.
In general joint disease is less often diagnosed in cats, mainly because they are (usually) small and fairly lightweight animals, and therefore there is less stress on their joints. But older cats that become overweight can and do develop arthritis. This highlights the fact that arthritis is much more likely to develop in pets that become overweight and take little exercise. It is also true that large, heavily built breeds of dogs such as Labradors, are more likely to suffer from arthritis because of the weight that has to be carried by their joints.
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, and this causes pain and discomfort. How can you tell if your pet has joint pain? A dog that becomes unwilling to go for a walk, a pet that is obviously stiff and sore when first getting up in the morning, any pet that is visibly more stiff in cold and damp weather; and any older pet that is less happy to play, or wakes up frequently at night, is likely to be experiencing joint pain.
If you suspect joint disease has started, make sure your vet examines your pet, so that any necessary treatment can be given. However, there are also natural ways to minimise joint pain, so here are a few tips to keep your pet free of pain and stiffness:
Keep the weight down. Overweight pets are more prone to arthritis and other joint problems.
Give gentle but regular exercise. Little and often is the best – joints that are not used get even more stiff and painful, joints that are over exerted become equally sore. Aim for two or three short walks a day rather than one long one, if possible.
Feed a healthy diet. Avoid too much rich or fatty food, and give as much fresh food as possible.
Ask your vet about the acupuncture. This is a method of treatment that can be very beneficial in pain relief and improvement of mobility.
Add natural supplements. There are a number of herbal supplements, such as Turmeric and Devils claw that are often helpful, and in particular what are known as 'chondroprotective' supplements. These are natural substances that help keep the cartilage in the joint and the joint fluid in good health. Cartilage and joint fluid have the function of lubricating joints and acting as 'shock absorbers'.
The two most effective chondroprotective agents are Glucosamine, which stimulates the growth and formation of cartilage and Chondroitin, which helps to prevent the wearing away of cartilage, and improves the shock absorbency.
With the help of natural herbs and supplements together with a healthy diet, weight and lifestyle, it should be possible to keep your dog active and mobile and to minimise the use of pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of arthritis.