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8 things to consider if your pet has arthritis

Making your home arthritis-friendly is one way to ease discomfort
Dr. Connor Ward is a veterinarian at the RAPS Animal Hospital.

Arthritis — the inflammation or swelling of joints — is endemic in older pets. An estimated 80% of older dogs and 90% of older cats have symptoms. This means that almost every pet parent is going to deal with this sad reality at some point.

Dr. Connor Ward, a veterinarian at the RAPS Animal Hospital, recommends eight things to consider when that moment comes — better yet, before it becomes a serious problem.

  1. Consult your veterinarian. Do not make any decisions about your pet’s health, even including over-the-counter supplements, without discussing with a professional. “However,” says Ward, “starting early with supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin may help support joint health later in life, so address that with your pet’s doctor now.”

  2. Ask about prescription treatments. “Significant advances have been made in the treatment of arthritis symptoms,” he says. Your vet can tell you about nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), medications to manage discomfort, and other options.
  1. Weight management. Excess weight puts stress on joints, making arthritis worse. “Keeping a pet at optimal weight is one of the most effective things we can do to reduce the risk of developing arthritis, or address the problem if it's already present,” Ward says.
  1. Appropriate exercise. Low-impact exercises, like gentle walks and swimming, help joint function and mobility. “Avoid high-impact activities,” he says.
  1. Make home arthritis-friendly. “A comfy bed and a warm environment can ease discomfort,” the veterinarian says. “Add no-slip mats on hardwood and use gates to discourage stair-climbing.”
  1. Physical therapy. Therapy or rehabilitation exercises can improve joint function and reduce pain. “Ask your vet for specific exercises,” Ward urges.
  1. Anti-inflammatory diet. “The food we give our pets is critical for every aspect of their health,” says Ward. “Anti-inflammatory diets, including omega-3 fatty acids, can go a long way to helping a pet with arthritis.”
  1. Pain management. “Pets can’t tell you where it hurts,” Ward says. “Arthritis, however, is one of the easier things to recognize because it’s often very visible in the way your pet moves.” Treating chronic pain and occasional flare-ups is important and a range of medications can help, as well as heat therapy and other non-pharmaceutical approaches.

“The sad reality is that statistics say almost all family pets will develop arthritis to some degree” Ward says. “Be proactive. Watch for signs. Talk to your veterinarian about preventative and ameliorative care.”