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Friday, September 13, 2013
Summer is ending, and the cooler weather is just around the corner. For our older pets, where summer’s heat and winter’s cold are burdensome, fall days are ideal for spending time outdoors.
It also is the perfect time to get our pets into “cold weather shape.” Similar to working out in the winter to get into “bikini shape,” now is the time to think ahead and help your pets get their bodies ready for winter’s bone-chilling weather.
Older dogs and cats often suffer from arthritis. The most common form of arthritis is degenerative joint disease , also known as osteoarthritis. This happens when the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the joints wear away, usually from age and overuse. Without the cartilage’s protection, the bones in the joints rub against each other during walking, which can cause inflammation and pain.
A n early sign of arthritis in pets is slowness or stiffness in rising and decreased enthusiasm for exercise. Many pets still are excited to go on walks or chase a ball, but quit halfway through the walk or after only a few throws of the ball. Arthritis also can result in cats or dogs becoming reluctant to jump up on the couch or show limited patience while being groomed because both can be painful.
Your veterinarian can perform a complete examination on your pet to rule out any other medical conditions and to diagnose which joints are affected. Often a physical examination . which includes feeling the joints and muscles and looking for crepitance or decreased range of motion, is all it takes to diagnose arthritis. Sometimes, radiographs (X-rays) are taken to confirm which joints are involved and how severely they are affected, which can guide treatment decisions.
Treatment for osteoarthritis is centered on weight control, physical therapy and medications to alleviate the current pain and help prevent more cartilage destruction. Keeping your pet at the ideal weight is crucial to minimizing the stress placed on the joints.
Consider the impact of an extra five pounds on a 50-pound dog: While this may not sound like a lot, it is 10 percent of the body weight and significantly increases the wear and tear on the joints, thereby hastening degenerative arthritic changes.
Limiting the calories a pet takes in by reducing the volume of food or feeding a diet food can drastically improve weight management. Measuring the food daily and rechecking the weight on a monthly basis are necessary to ensure the correct amount of calories are being given .
Physical therapy and exercise also are crucial to weight loss and to helping your pet get around better. The old adage, “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is true. Lack of exercise results in stiff, weak pets that will progressively deteriorate . But, if you exercise your pet daily, it promotes cartilage production, regenerates joint fluid and strengthens the muscles and tendons that support the pet’s weight.
With the assistance of your veterinarian, you can develop a safe exercise program for both you and your pet. It could be a slow-paced 10-minute walk around the house or an hourlong jog. Remember to start slowly and gradually increase the workout to prevent further injury.
Sometimes however, joints are damaged enough from previous trauma or just the wear and tear of life that medications are required. The first medication that indicated is a joint supplement. Supplements all contain some combination of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfates and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) that reduce joint inflammation and degeneration. The most commonly recommended products are over-the-counter and pet-specific.
As the degenerative changes progress, pain-relieving medications may be needed. Rimadyl is the most common prescribed NSAID and is effective in making most older dogs more comfortable and active. They are typically given daily to start, and the dose is decreased as needed over time. Other drugs also are available and may be prescribed as indicated .
Do not use painkillers prescribed for humans for dogs or cats , because side effects can be serious and fatal.
Fall also is a good time to pay attention to your pet’s coat. Many aged and arthritic pets can’t groom themselves as they once did, and therefore have an unkempt coat that is uncomfortable. Ensuring they have a healthy coat by removing hair mats and brushing out the undercoat is important to prevent bacterial infections and parasites, such as maggots, from affecting the skin.
As pets age, it’s typical for their skin to become dry and flaky, but it can be representative of an organ or thyroid disease, which can easily be diagnosed with blood tests and effectively treated with medications or diet.
As pets (and people) live longer, healthier lives, health care revolves around prevent ive me asures. Watching diet and exercising to stay in shape are paramount to living a healthy life. The cold weather can take its toll on aging pets; often times, owners just want their beloved pet to make it through another winter.
Talk with your veterinarian about coming up with an individualized plan to help your pet get “body ready” for winte r and to ensure they get to enjoy next fall.
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