Arthritis in pets can be just as agonizing

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COLLEGE STATION—If arthritis has your knees creaking and your joints aching, it can be a miserable time. Rover may feel your pain.

Arthritis in pets can be just as agonizing as it is in humans, and the disease and its effects are very similar in both pets and people, says Dr. Sharon Kerwin, a veterinarian in Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Arthritis can affect almost any animal, but it is especially common in dogs.

Kerwin says animal arthritis attacks bones and joints much the same way as the disease does in humans, but with one noticeable exception—it can strike some animals, especially dogs, before they become a 1-year-old.

“Any animal can get arthritis, but dogs especially seem to be prone to getting the disease,” Kerwin says.

Kerwin adds: “It is not unusual for a dog to have a check-up in its first year, and the veterinarian can already detect signs of arthritis. It means the owner will almost certainly have to make some adjustments in the way the animal is cared for, and the amount of exercise and movement the dog gets.”

Certain breeds are especially prone to getting arthritis, and these include rottweilers, golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers.

Kerwin says there are several signs pet owners may look for if they suspect their animal might have arthritis.

“First is an obvious decrease in activity,” she explains. “The animal may not want to go as far as it used to on a walk. It may not want to walk at all.

“In cats, it is sometimes a little harder to detect arthritis, but the animal may appear to be less active and may have trouble jumping on top of a chair or table,” she adds.

Treatments can vary, depending on the severity of arthritis, Kerwin says.

Surgery, she explains, is sometimes recommended, especially if a hip or other joint is severely affected.

“Drugs are often prescribed, and these include Rimadyl (carprofen) for dogs,” she says. “For cats, there are not as many choices. A low-dose aspirin can sometimes help, or there are several drugs which can be of benefit.”

As with humans, weather changes—especially colder weather—can often be felt in bones and joints, and these changes can affect your pet, Kerwin adds.

“Probably the most frequent question veterinarians get asked about arthritis in pets is, ‘Should I continue to exercise my pet?’ There’s no easy answer,” Kerwin believes.

“Low-impact exercise, like a walk, is usually better than no exercise at all,” she says. “Swimming is an ideal exercise for dogs, if they will do it. But there is always a Catch-22 with exercise: If you don’t exercise the pet, it will almost certainly gain weight, and if you do give the animal exercise, it can sometimes make the condition worse.

“That’s why it’s best to consult with a veterinarian to get the treatment plans best suited for your pet,” she concludes. “Pet arthritis is not a death sentence for your animal, but owners need to be aware that the animal cannot do certain things.”

from the April 4-10, 2007, issue

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