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The joys of ageing

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June 27, 2017

The nights are freezing and the mornings frosty at this time of year and I see many older dogs hobble in to the clinic. I am glad there is so much that can be done for them these days. A lifetime of activity catches up with us all at some stage or another and our pets are not immune.

Often an owner will put the symptoms down to just getting old. But pets don’t have to be old to suffer arthritis and, in larger breeds especially, developmental problems can make symptoms appear from seven months of age. When should you be suspicious that your pet is being troubled by arthritic pain?

Cats hide their pains from us by sleeping all the time, but subtle signs include not being able to jump up or get down again.

In dogs, there are many indicators. Does your dog limp, have difficulty getting up or sit down like an old lady? Have difficulty moving in and out of the car or on to the bed? Start off stiff early in the day but improve with a bit of activity? Can’t walk as far as normal or sleeps a lot? Become irritable, snap/bite when handled, or is sore when touched? Is one leg looking thin compared to the other from disuse, or the joint is thickened? Does your pet lick or chew constantly over a particular joint? If you answered yes to any of these questions, arthritis is a possibility.

One of the best activities an owner can do to help their stiff pet is to get them lean. Obesity makes any joint problem worse and many pets are carrying around kilograms of excess weight with them every time they get up and take a step, so ask your vet for help with weight loss.

Check what your pet weighed when he was 18 months old, as that is usually a good guide of a lean body weight. Don’t forget to try and keep your pet warm. Keeping him indoors helps, as does a fi rm padded bed. Hammock style raised beds can be tricky to get in and out of. Making a diagnosis of arthritis means 
taking an X-ray of the joint, looking for changes and ensuring we are not missing something more sinister.

Bone cancer is quite common in the long bones of older, large-breed dogs. I saw a cat recently that had become lame after tripping over a hose-pipe and X-rays showed the pelvis riddled with cancer. But that type of bad news is uncommon — arthritis is far more common and we can help this tremendously.

Owners frequently comment how their pet has a new lease on life thanks to treatment. Pets love to be active, especially being part of your day, so don’t hesitate to ask your vet for help.

Do you have an ageing pet in your family? Share your story below in the comment section. 

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