Dogs, Cats and… Ducks

Dogs, cats and even ducks get arthritis!

A day doesn’t go by at our animal hospital without some mention of arthritis, whether it’s in a dog with bad knees, an aged cat or my own creaky fingers. It seems no species are immune to the ravages of time on the body.

In researching this column, I even came across discussions of chronic joint problems in ducks. Apologies to any duck owners out there, but we won’t be addressing the species further here, except perhaps to deal with a bit of quackery later on.

Currently, there are six approaches to managing arthritis commonly recommended by veterinarians. Hands-down, the most effective treatment for many of our patients is weight loss. As many as 40 per cent of pets are overweight and the excess baggage stresses bad joints to the point that some animals can’t get up unaided when they get old. Weight loss can save lives.

The other options include anti-inflammatory medications, supplements such as glucosamine or Omega 3 fatty acids, additional pain control, physiotherapy and regular, slow exercise. We’ll save discussion of stem cell implants, an amazing new technology, for another day.

The use of anti-inflammatories shouldn’t surprise anyone who takes aspirin or ibuprofen for painful joints, but never give pets medication without consulting your veterinarian. Although we may all get arthritis, there are enormous species differences in what pills we can take for it. It’s really easy to kill a cat or harm a dog with human drugs.

Much of the above-mentioned “quackery” is focused on glucosamine supplements which are supposed to help protect cartilage in joints. Depending on who you talk to, glucosamine doesn’t work at all, it only works in an injectible form, it works if you get a certain brand or you can buy the cheapest stuff at the pharmacy and your dog will be chasing Frisbees in no time. Again, talk to your veterinarian and do some research. I’m somewhat sceptical because supportive scientific studies are scarce, but since it’s generally harmless and there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that it works, my dogs will soon be getting a high quality, brand-name glucosamine every day. Oh, the amounts put in so-called “healthy joint diets” are a waste of time — too little to have any hope of being effective. Quack.

Fatty acid supplements are an exciting approach that shows a lot of potential, as do several fairly-new-to-vets pain medications such as gabapentin and tramadol that help keep pets exercising. And there are several options for animal physiotherapy in the Quinte West area these days, so we’ve got that covered too.

If your pet is reaching his senior years, talk to your vet about arthritis. If he is also overweight, don’t wait until he can’t move. I’ve seen miraculous recoveries with weight loss – like on those crazy old evangelistic television shows. “Throw away those pills Cliff-the-dog. Throw away that hip sling. You are healed. Fetch that Frisbee, fetch.”

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist,
Hillcrest Animal Hospital — May, 2012