May 23 2012

Growin’Old Ain’t for Sissys

“Growin’ old ain’t for sissys!” A favourite mantra of my good friend’s father; he’s storming his way through his eighties so he knows what he’s talking about. Despite all the wonderful things about the “Golden years” there is no doubt that our bodies start to make us pay for all the times we took them for granted when we were younger. Thankfully, for those of us who consider ourselves a “part time sissy”, current medicine provides us many options to soften the complaints of the aging body. And the same holds true for our senior cats and dogs.

Arthritis (Degenerative Joint Disease) in dogs is one of the most common reasons owners start to ask questions about humane euthanasia. They see their dog’s mobility declining, energy decreasing, perhaps even falling. Some dogs may hesitate going up or down stairs, some may play less, or become less sociable around other dogs. Some dogs appear stiff, while others limp, some just sleep more and a few become short-tempered at home. These could all be signs of joint disease. For large and giant breed dogs this can start as early as 5-7 years old. Hips, knees, elbows and shoulders are all commonly affected. The number 1 mistake made by owners is assuming that their dog’s decreased pep and spunk is “normal aging”, so they don’t seek assistance. Yet this is the BEST time to respond. Whether they are 7 or 17 years old, they all deserve to have pain alleviated – wouldn’t you? This is when our mature dog should receive a blood screen to ensure they don’t have an easily managed thyroid problem, and ensure their organ function is good.

Carrying excess body weight can cause joint breakdown years before it would occur in their lean body. So the earlier you can seriously address any weight concerns the better. Consider it adding years to their life! Our veterinary team has lots of resources to help you and your dog achieve your weight goals.

I often recommend that dogs who are “slowing down” try a 2 week trial of anti-inflammatory pain medication under the direction and supervision of a veterinarian. If their pep and spunk returns while on the medication then we know we have a treatable problem. If your dog has a good response to the medication then you can investigate many other options; glucosamine, chondrotin, green-lipped muscle supplements, Mobility diets, Cartrophen injections etc. We can provide you with lots of information on these options. Often combinations of these therapies and good weight loss can delay the need for daily anti-inflammatory medications for a long time. And when your senior dog starts to slow down again you can start them back on the anti-inflammatories and give them a new lease on life.

Altering exercise patterns can also be helpful, select exercises that increase their joint range of motion but decrease heavy impact on the joints. Flat ground walking or running, minimize jumping, fetch, frisbees etc. Swimming is a fantastic exercise for dogs with joint disease.

Cats can also suffer from joint disease as they age. . As you might imagine; the success rate of swim therapy in cats is quite low (and we’ve run out of human volunteers for the program!). Feline arthritis looks different then the canine picture. Cats tend to develop arthritis in their spine, neck, shoulders and elbows. These cats might still jump up but often pause before jumping down; they might have some difficulty getting into litter boxes with a wide rim resulting in “accidents” out of the box; it often becomes uncomfortable for them to crouch at the food and water bowl so they eat more frequently but for shorter amounts of time. Although more subtle to notice in our cats it is no less important to manage. It is just as important for your senior cat to have a blood screen as there are many other, very treatable, causes of altered routines in our cats. If suspected to have joint disease we can also offer our cats multiple options for relief: supplements, mobility diets, Cartrophen (off-label use), pain relief medications. Even simple adjustments like raising their bowls for them to easily eat & drink from standing, changing the litter box access, and placing “step stools” to help them get down from favourite perches.

As a caution, never self-treat your dog or cat with anti-inflammatories; ibuprofen can cause severe kidney disease, aspirin can cause stomach ulcers & vomiting, coated aspirin does not get a chance to be absorbed in our pet’s short intestinal tract, and acetaminophen(Tylenol) can be deadly to cats.

So next time you think to yourself that the years seem to be catching up with Buster or Chloe, think about giving us a call. Because growin’ old may not be for sissys, but it doesn’t have to be painful either!

Article Prepared by: Dr. Claire Todd (Veterinarian) Fonthill Animal Hospital

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