by Amanda L. Maus DVM
When senior pets come into our office for their annual wellness exam, we ask slightly different questions of our clients than we did when their pets were younger. Is your cat having any trouble jumping – onto the couch or onto the cat perch/windowsill? Is your cat slow to get up in the morning after laying down for a long time? Has your cat seemed to slow down over the past few months? Is your cat limping? Has your cat lost interest in playing its favorite games? Is your cat slow to lay down or seem to have trouble getting comfortable? Is your cat sleeping or hiding more than usual? Has your cat become grouchy or aggressive towards its housemates?
All of these questions are aimed at discovering signs of pain in your pet. Pets are stoic creatures and do not cry or limp unless the pain level is very high. If your answer yes to at least one of the above questions, your pet may be having signs of arthritis or degenerative joint disease. An x-ray of your pet’s legs or spine can help determine the location and extent of the disease. Luckily, we are able to address this disease with lifestyle changes and medications, similar to how it is treated in people.
First, we address your cat’s weight in the form of a body condition score on a scale of 1-5 or 1-9. If your pet is overweight, we can discuss either a change in feeding the current diet or consider changing to a diet food. Daily moderate exercise helps with maintaining an ideal body weight as well as helps keep the joints mobile.
Next, we consider the use of medications. Supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega 3 fatty acids are easy ways to help support the cartilage and natural lubrication of joints. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) used under direct supervision by your veterinarian, after performing appropriate bloodwork, can be a great way to provide pain relief and decrease inflammation in the joints. Additional pain relief can be found with drugs such as gabapentin, which directly acts on nerve and chronic pain pathways.
Finally, at home you can consider massaging your cat during petting sessions and even trying range of motion exercises of the affected joint. A heated blanket or bed with padded bedding can really help soothe sore joints. Additional therapies, such as acupuncture, may also help.
Instead of just blaming old age, we can try different lifestyle changes and medications that can provide relief for your senior pet. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if you have noticed any of the above changes in your pet. Together, we can develop a plan that is specific to your pets needs as they age.