On any given day, in veterinary clinics across the country, thousands of Senior pets are seen for their routine exams. Statements such as these are commonly heard from owners: “Rover isn’t chasing after his ball anymore. He’s slowing down on walks. He sleeps a lot. I guess old age is finally catching up with him.” or “Fluffy hasn’t been jumping up on the kitchen counter lately. I think in her old age she’s finally learned she shouldn’t do that!”
The reality is that “old age” isn’t the culprit in the behavior changes that pet owners are seeing. The more likely explanation is that their four legged friend is in pain, specifically osteoarthritis pain. Osteoarthritis is commonly overlooked by most people; however, it is quite prevalent in our Senior pets. According to Banfield’s 2019 State of Pet Health Report 1 osteoarthritis in Senior pets has seen a dramatic increase of 66% in dogs and 150% in cats in the past 10 years. This data was collected by looking at 2.5 million dogs and 500,000 cats in Banfield’s network of hospitals. They found that among their patients 4% of cats and 20% of dogs over the age of 10 are affected by osteoarthritis. It is staggering to think that these numbers are from just a small section of geriatric pets.
What exactly is osteoarthritis and why is it going unrecognized by so many pet owners? As defined by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, osteoarthritis is “A chronic joint disease characterized by loss of joint cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule and new bone formation around the joint (osteophytosis) and ultimately leading to pain and limb dysfunction.” This disease progression is generally slow and subtle, which can make it hard to recognize for many pet owners. What is most commonly associated with slowing down due to age can actually be a result of osteoarthritis pain.
Common signs of osteoarthritis that many pet owners just accept as a reality of aging include:
· Lameness in one or more legs, walking stiffly
· Difficulty rising from a sitting or lying position
· Difficulty going up/down stairs or avoiding them altogether
· No longer jumping on surfaces they once maneuvered with ease (couch/bed, counters, cat towers)
· Visibly hesitating before attempting to jump on something
· Noticeable irritability or aggression with other pets or people (due to pain)
· Slowing down on walks/unable to go as far as they once could
· Increase in panting, either during physical activity or periods of rest (due to pain)
· Sleeping/laying around more
· Loss of interest in playing with favorite toys or fetching things
· Slipping on surfaces as they walk
Many factors are involved in the development of osteoarthritis including: body conformation, abnormal joint development (hip/elbow dysplasia), previous injury, high levels of activity, and weight. It is interesting to note in the Banfield study that 52% of dogs and 41% of cats with osteoarthritis were also overweight or obese. It becomes especially important with our Senior pets to keep them at a healthy body weight.
If you are able to relate any of the above information to your own pet please know there is much you can do to help them. Scheduling a visit with their veterinarian to discuss their symptoms and treatment options is a great place to start. Diagnosis of osteoarthritis and treatment will be discussed in the following blog. It is our goal as veterinary professionals to improve quality of life for your furry best friend so they can enjoy their Golden Years to the fullest.
Carol Hudecek, LVT- Columbia Animal Clinic