Arthritis and Pain in Senior Pets - What can we do to help our beloved older animals?
Updated: Apr 25
Have you ever wondered if your senior pet is in pain, or what signs to even look for to tell?While animals experience pain just like we do, they often do not express this pain in ways we expect. One of the most common causes of pain we see in geriatric patients is osteoarthritis, a disease characterized by inflammation in the joints and damaged cartilage, which becomes more common with age. There is no one effective treatment protocol for this condition and often multiple treatments are combined for the best outcome. The goal of this article is to provide a brief summary of some that are commonly used.
When talking about common medications used to treat arthritic pain in cats and dogs, we will focus on a select few NSAIDs and non NSAIDs, as there are too many medications to cover all.
Non-steroidal anti-flammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
NSAIDs help relieve pain through their anti-inflammatory properties. While human drugs are typically unsafe to use in dogs or cats due to their different metabolisms, veterinary NSAIDs are generally well-tolerated and with more recent research and development have become safer for long-term use. As in people, some animals will not respond to one medication but may respond to another in the same class. (Note: NEVER combine an NSAID with a steroid). While there are no NSAIDs labeled for long term use in cats, there have been studies showing that select drugs are often safe for long term use when dosed as low/infrequently as possible while still being effective. The NSAID chosen for a particular patient’s treatment depends on many factors including history, organ function, and physical exam. Commonly used ones include carprofen, meloxicam, and grapiprant. Often a separate medication will be added in to protect the gastrointestinal tract.
Gabapentin (Neurontin) is a medication used in both dogs and cats, which can be excellent for treating chronic pain, and in particular, nerve pain. An additional benefit is that it can be used as an adjunct to lower the NSAID dose required. Amantidine is another medication used in dogs and cats to treat chronic pain. Typically both gabapentin and amantidine are available in an oral form.
Some supplements have been shown to be beneficial in treating arthritic pain (note that supplements are not closely regulated by the FDA so you should use products that have proven research behind them). Glucosamine is a building block of healthy cartilage in joints and while it is a natural compound in the body, as a human or animal ages its levels can decrease. As a supplement it is available in multiple forms. These include oral products such as Nutramax Cosequin or Dasuquin, VetriScience Glycoflex , and Duralactin, all of which are available in canine/feline varieties and are non-prescription. Another joint health supplement, Adequan Canine (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) is an injectable treatment that requires a prescription from a veterinarian. While this product is labeled for dogs, anecdotal evidence suggests it may have benefit in cats as well. Other non-prescription supplements that help with arthritic pain through natural anti-inflammatory properties include fish oil, which has omega 3 fatty acids (one available product with omega 3’s is Merial Antinol for dogs or for cats), and bone broth.
Several prescription diets have been developed to help with joint health and mobility in senior pets. Some examples are Purina ProPlan JM Joint Mobility, Hill’s Metabolic + Mobility, Hill’s j/d Joint Care, and Royal Canin Mobility Support JS. These diets have been formulated to reduce inflammation and keep cartilage healthy.
Acupuncture, through the use of very small needles placed at specific points, can decrease arthritic pain through effects on all branches of the nervous system and on various organ systems.
Laser therapy can be used to treat pain using certain wavelengths of light to promote healthy cartilage and improve range of motion.
Cold therapy (cryotherapy) can work locally in a specific location to reduce inflammation and decrease pain by decreasing tissue blood flow and inhibiting certain physiologic processes.
Heat therapy (thermotherapy) can be used to relax muscles and help treat pain through a different process.
There are many products you can use to help your pet get around the home easier and help with overall mobility . These include devices that increase traction, such as Buzby’s Toe Grips (which go on the pet’s nails) or Pawfriction (for the pads of the feet), and ones that provide support like the HelpEmUp harness. Even a bath towel wrapped gently under the abdomen in front of the hindlimbs can be used to give support when needed. You can also make some easy modifications around the house, like elevating food and water dishes, installing pet stairs or ramps, and placing yoga mats or interlocking foam pads on the floors.
Strengthening exercises will also help with your senior pet’s mobility. These include physical therapy and range of motion routines, and aquatherapy such as swimming or using an underwater treadmill. Of course the most important way to help with a senior pet’s mobility and help maintain their quality of life are to help them stay as active as possible, within their abilities – walks (even short ones) and playing with them with their favorite toy(s) or using a food puzzle if their appetite is good. Obesity is a very common problem in aging dogs and cats, and getting them to or maintaining them at a healthy weight is a HUGE benefit to all aspects of their health, including joint health.
*** Dr. Anderson is in no way affiliated with any of the brands or products mentioned, but they are named for your convenience - to allow you to learn about through your own research and/or to keep in mind if you would like more information about them during a consult appointment.
If you would like to have Dr. Anderson visit your home to develop an individualized plan/treatment protocol for your dog or cat based on history, physical exam, and an in-home assessment of your pet and its environment, AND/OR to find out more about what an in home euthanasia is like, please contact us for more information about her consult appointments. It is important to note that sometimes consults reveal issues severe enough that the recommended treatment is humane euthanasia, whether in home or at a clinic.
Please remember that Faithful Hearts focuses on providing end-of-life care. Some services we recommend having performed or continuing as needed at your primary veterinarian include bloodwork (basic such as blood count/ chemistry and more specialized for specific organ function if indicated, especially if medication is to be prescribed), diagnostic imaging (such as X-rays or CT scans, if indicated), and overall wellness and preventative care including dentistry. Dental disease commonly affects senior pets and often results in chronic pain and infection if left untreated.