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Comforting Pets' Creaky Joints

Creaky joints are not unique to humans. An estimated 10 million dogs in the United States have been diagnosed with arthritis.

The problem can be as mild as minor pain, but it can also be so serious that some pet owners choose to euthanize their pet. Arthritis can be so severe that the dog can barely stand, can't walk and loses control of bodily functions, so that even a housebroken dog begins to soil inside the house.

The Saturday Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner, with the help of an arthritic 5-year-old Rottweiler named Macy, provided some facts about arthritis and explained how to make your arthritic pet more comfortable.

Turner says dogs and cats can get arthritis (osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease) just like people. It is more common in large animals, but even small ones can suffer the painful effects of inflammation of the joints.

Major Types Of Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a chronic, slowly progressing condition that is caused by the breakdown and destruction of your pet's cartilage. As this occurs, the bony structures begin to rub against one another, causing pain and discomfort.

Degenerative joint disease involves a breakdown or destruction in portions of the joint, usually cartilage. Just as in the case of osteoarthritis, this condition does not necessarily mean that your pet is experiencing any inflammation.

Hip dysplasia is characterized by a malformed "ball and joint" socket in your animal. This ill-fitting combination causes a series of complications. Here, chronic inflammation is common; calcium build-ups occur; there is muscle pain; and the tissue in the surrounding areas begin to break down.

Signs of Arthritis

Limping, reluctance to move: Turner says these symptoms can be signs of arthritis, especially in the morning or after a long period of inactivity. Difficulty standing, walking, running or climbing, and sensitivity to touch at the affected site are also signs of arthritis.

Turner says overweight pets, geriatric (elderly) pets, pets who've had surgery on a joint, dogs with hip dysplasia and pets that have suffered acute trauma such as being hit by a car are likely candidates for arthritis.

How to Ease the Pain

  • Bring the pet in from cold, damp weather. The cold weather aggravates pet arthritis just it does in humans.
  • A soft bed will help your pet rest much easier. A heated bed is all the better. Just be sure not to overheat your pet.
  • A hot water bottle or heating pad can help ease those creaky joints. Turner says applying heat for 15 minutes a couple of times a day can really help. Just be very careful with a heating pad. If turned too high or left on too long, the heating pad can cause severe burns on your pet's skin.
  • A nice pet massage can be very soothing for your pet. Turner says to rub the area over the joint gently in circular motions.
  • For pets with a stiff neck, Turner says use a food bowl stand that raises the pet's food up off the floor. This way the dog doesn't have to bend its neck so low to eat.
  • Provide a ramp so your pooch won't have to jump in and out of the car, or on and off their favorite chair.
  • Swimming in lukewarm water is great for those achy joints, according to Turner. Just be sure the weather is warm or the pool is indoors. A bathtub works, too!
  • Doggie sweaters aren't just for high fashion. Turner says keeping Fido warm during these cold days will help him bear the cold and the pain of arthritis.
  • Turner says you can make a sling with a towel under your pet's lower abdomen to help it get up and get moving.

Treatment for Arthritis

For overweight pets, Turner says the first course of action is to help the animal lose weight. She explains that many people (even veterinarians) believe that glucosamine/chondroitin can be helpful for pets with joint pain and inflammation. Talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate dose for your pet.

Veterinarians may use anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDs such as Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Metacam and Zubrin. The vet may sometimes use corticosteriods to treat chronic, and more severe cases of arthritis. Again, talk to your vet.

Turner says glucosamine is also very beneficial in the treatment for arthritis and hip dysplasia in pets and is backed by numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. In studies, it has aided in the rehabilitation of cartilage, has reduced the progression of arthritis, significantly lessened pain from arthritis, and increased mobility in dogs and cats.

Turner says many veterinarians may also employ a holistic approach to treatment. Some even use acupuncture.

Aspirin in small doses can also be used in dogs - but not cats! About 80 milligrams per 10 pound of body weight is sufficient, according to Turner. She warns pet owners to be careful and follow veterinarian's instructions when administering aspirin. Just as in people, aspirin can affect digestive health.

Arthritis Prevention

Turner says regular exercise, which also keeps the pet from becoming overweight, is a good way to prevent arthritis. Good muscle tone can help alleviate some of the pressure on the affected joint. If the pet already has arthritis, don't overdo the exercise. Your pet will be the best indicator of when too much activity is too much - they may be achy the next day.

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