In part one of this two-part article, we looked at the signs and diagnoses of arthritis in pets. In this part of the article, we will look at the treatment and prevention of arthritis in pets. With the advancement of technology and medicine, arthritis is no longer a death sentence. Our beloved pets can benefit from a range of surgical and medical treatment. As mentioned in part one, it can never be stopped or cured but arthritis can definitely be managed and symptoms relieved to give your pet a pain-free life.
Reputable breeders do screen for hip and elbow dysplasia before the age of 18 months and 2 years in giant breeds but it does not guarantee that your pet will be arthritis free come the golden years. The screening ensures that they do not breed from affected animals as screening involves taking an x-ray of the hips and elbows. Informed breeders also tend to ensure that puppies are fed correctly from a very young age. Prevention is better than cure. If you are looking to acquire a pedigreed animal, buy from a reputable breeder.
Feeding the correct food for a new puppy is critically important. Large and giant breed puppies’ needs are different from those of small and medium breeds. The large breed puppy (> 25kg adult weight) needs to grow slower. For this reason, the levels of carbohydrates and calcium in the food should be lower than the levels found in food for small and medium breed puppies. An animal which grows too fast may develop a problem with the density of their bones, which may lead to strain caused by the rapid increase in body weight. Large breed puppies need puppy food until they are about eighteen months old and giant breeds until they are 2 years old. If you are not sure about which category your puppy falls into, just ask your vet for advice. This way you can ensure that you buy the correct food to meet your pet’s nutritional needs.
For pets that are overweight, weight loss is an essential part of their treatment. No pet will respond favourably to the treatment of arthritis if they have to carry excess weight on a compromised joint. Ask your vet for ideas on how to get your pet’s weight down. A moderate, but correct exercise routine should be followed. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise as no weight is being placed on those sore joints and most dogs enjoy this. Professional hydrotherapy classes are now available in the bigger cities. Thick bedding should be used and pets should be discouraged from sleeping on cold hard surfaces.
Dietary supplements such as chondroitin and glucosamine have been shown to benefit degenerating joints. The sooner one starts with this treatment the better the long-term outcome. Some veterinary diet pet foods may include supplements such as chondroitin, glucosamine and omega 3 fatty acids. A huge benefit of using veterinary diet pet food is that it is formulated to be balanced and does not over or undersupply any essential nutrients or supplements. There are different types of veterinary diet pet foods for arthritis which also helps to keep your pet’s weight at the correct level, either by reducing their current weight without starving them, or maintaining their current weight if they are at the correct weight and preventing them from adding on any extra weight.
When your pet is in a lot of pain your vet can prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Vets try to limit the use of these medicines as they can have negative side effects on the intestinal and renal system. They are however safe to use on a chronic basis if used correctly. In older patients, blood and urine tests may need to be performed to establish if these drugs would be safe to use. The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications usually used by veterinarians are mostly prescription medicines and cannot be bought over the counter.
Surgery can be beneficial in cases where young dogs are already experiencing a lot of pain and where the bones are still growing. The progression of arthritis is then delayed. This will help them a great deal in their older years. Surgery can also be performed as a salvage procedure if the patient is experiencing a lot of pain. The vet will be able to give you more information and tell you if your pet is a candidate for surgery.
Certain surgical procedures, which are performed to treat dysplasia cases, are only effective before a certain age. This is due to the fact that the growth plates (the area where bone grows in length) in young animals fuse and stop growing, to form permanent bone at predetermined ages. If corrective procedures had not been performed before the closure of the growth plates, it may be too late to achieve the desired surgical outcome. The vet will be able to tell you which procedures can still be performed on your pet once the condition has been diagnosed. Procedures that can still be performed on adult dogs include the removal of the ball part of the ball and socket hip joint, or a complete hip replacement where a synthetic hip joint is implanted in the animal. Elbow dysplasia can potentially be treated surgically in adult animals, but several factors have to be considered in each individual case.
Two alternative therapies which have been developed in recent years are becoming more popular, but it still needs to be determined whether these modalities of treatment are effective in the long run. The first is the injection of platelet-rich plasma (taken from the animal itself) into the affected joints. It involves taking blood from the animal and separating it into its main components, namely blood cells and plasma (the fluid which carries the blood cells). The plasma component is then injected back into the pet’s joints. The second new form of treatment is the harvesting of stem cells from the animal’s fat and injecting that into the affected joints. These procedures are typically performed by specialist vets only. A lot of research is still needed to adequately assess the worth and long-term effects of these treatments.
The treatment of cats with arthritis is slightly different than in dogs as exercising a cat is not so easy. Seeing as arthritis is more common in cats that are overweight, weight loss remains the most important treatment you as an owner can perform. Diet and supplements play a big role in the treatment of arthritis in cats as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are far more dangerous in cats than in dogs. Some human painkillers like Paracetamol can be lethal in cats, therefore, you should never use human painkillers or human arthritis medication in cats.
You may not be able to prevent your beloved pet from getting old but you can certainly help them do so with more dignity… and maybe just make them want to play ball again.
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