You know when you’ve hurt yourself! Pain zings through your body and maybe you shout out in pain. For a serious injury, a trip to the emergency room (ER) may be in order. You’ll be examined and possibly have X-rays. Once the problem has been assessed, you may be prescribed a pain medication. Our furry friends can’t communicate pain the same way that we do. Sure, they may cry out but what if they don’t? Or what if the pain is chronic, as with degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis (OA)? If they can’t “tell” us they’re suffering, how do we know?
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of chronic pain in pets. Taking your pet to see your veterinarian for regular wellness checks allows for early detection of changes in your pet’s mobility and joint movement. Combined with your pet’s history (his mood; general behavior; mobility; and sleep, urinary and bowel habits) your veterinarian may determine that your pet has early OA. Regular wellness checks become even more important as your pet ages – remember, pets age much faster than we do. Not taking your pet to your veterinarian at least yearly is like you going to your doctor for a checkup every 4 to 16 years!
Osteoarthritis is often underrecognized by pet owners. Up to 90% of cats over the age of 10 are impacted by some form of OA, and up to 25% of dogs have OA. Cats are so adept at hiding their pain as part of their survival instinct that OA is often not diagnosed until it has progressed to the point of noticeable debilitating signs.
Because obesity – and even being slightly overweight – contributes to OA, it is important to keep your pet at an optimal weight. The extra pounds contribute to OA in two ways: the extra weight presents additional forces that your pet’s joints have to bear and fat (or adipose tissue) creates and releases chemicals, many of which promote inflammation, so the more fat, the greater the chance for OA.
Even if your pet doesn’t “tell” you outright that he’s in pain, there are subtle signs that can indicate that your pet is being affected by pain.
If you notice any of the following signs be sure to call for an appointment with your veterinarian:
- Stiffness or difficulty getting up and down
- Walking stiffly
- Lameness in one or more limb
- Reluctance to walk up or down stairs or jump onto or off of furniture
- Reluctance to be touched on some parts of the body or aggression when certain areas are touched
- Missing the litterbox, discomfort or difficulty having a bowel movement, lapses in housetraining
- Difficulty finding a comfortable position
- Abnormal body posture while sitting or lying down
- Reduced grooming
These signs could indicate that your pet has OA or another painful condition. To determine the source of discomfort, your veterinarian will gather a history and perform a full physical examination, and may take X-rays. This will allow your veterinarian to make a diagnosis and come up with a treatment plan.
Managing OA is usually multimodal, meaning it will involve more than one treatment approach. Treatment may include modification of your pet’s activities, rehabilitation therapies (including laser therapy), dietary changes, supplements, and pain medications. For cats, something as simple as a more accessible litterbox can make a difference.
Don’t try to treat your pet’s pain on your own. Many over-the-counter pain relievers for people are toxic, or even fatal, for dogs and cats. See your veterinarian for the best plan of care. Beat the pain. There is much to gain – starting with the health and happiness of your pet!