A few times this week in appointments the topic of arthritis has come up. More specifically, discussions on how to identify arthritis in our older patients, or what arthritis can look like. So, I thought it might be helpful to give a quick list of some ways that arthritis can present in our pets. This list is in no way exhaustive – arthritis can look so different, and can affect every patient a little differently, for sure! But this is a good tool to identify some changes that may be helpful in knowing when we should take action to help our older patients!
Stiffness and limping – though I recognize that this is vague, I still think it’s a good place to start. We all know what stiffness feels like – anyone over the age of 15 probably does. It’s that feeling of I just got up, and my muscles and joints are tight and need to loosen up as I get moving. It looks just like that in pets too – they are slow to rise, they walk with a very stilted gait – straight legs, slow moving, limping movements. Often this improves within a minute or two (just like in us!) – but it is a super common red flag for arthritis!
Struggling to get up or lie down – that slow and painful rise is such a clear sign of arthritis. Slowly hefting themselves up, even while groaning, and needing to really pull themselves up – is definitely a sign of joint pain/stiffness. You can see changes with lying down too – instead of gently lying down they will often flop themselves down as they lose some of the strength to support themselves on the way down, or just due to discomfort.
Changing how they go up the stairs – this one may seem specific, but it is such a good one. Instead of running up the stairs, they will often go slowly – taking them one step at a time, one foot at a time. Or even more obviously, they bunny hop both hind legs up each step together while going slowly in the front legs!
Struggling to jump on/off furniture – you may notice your dog taking a long time to work up to jumping on the bed. Rocking back and forth or dancing their feet around before taking the leap. Same with cats – doing a lot of looking and prepping to jump before finally taking the jump onto a favorite perch. And often it is the same with jumping down!
Behavior changes – this is worth making a note of too. Sometimes pets will get grumpy – they don’t want to play, they growl when the younger dogs/cats try to engage them, they hide more often, they eat lying down instead of standing up, they are sleeping way more, etc. These can all be signs of chronic discomfort and can go hand in hand with arthritis!
Now like I said, this is not an all-inclusive list – there are some really obvious ones too, like a bigger discussion on limping, or having accidents outside of the litter box, or dogs having accidents inside or while lying down, but I wanted to touch on a few that I think people don’t always directly associate with being a sign of arthritis!
Ok, so I think my dog (or cat!) has arthritis – what do I do now?? That is really a whole topic in and of itself….but a good place to start would be joint supplements, weight loss, and call your vet! That way we can work together to determine how uncomfortable your pet is, so we can come up with the best treatment plan for him/her – some pets do amazing with joint supplements and just non-invasive treatment, like laser treatments! Some pets need anti-inflammatories and pain medications and still struggle…it all depends on your pet and their needs – so be sure to work with your veterinarian to come up with the best treatment plan for your furry friend! But keep an eye out for the above changes as your pets age, so we can intervene and keep them comfy for as long as possible!