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JUNE 6, 2012

Arthritis isn’t just for humans

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When arthritis has your knees creaking and your joints aching, it can be a miserable time.
Your pets may feel your pain as well.

Arthritis in pets can be just as agonizing as it is in humans, and the disease and its effects are very similar in both pets and people, says Dr. Sharon Kerwin, professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences who specializes in orthopedic medicine.

Kerwin says animal arthritis attacks bones and joints much the same way as the disease does in humans, but with one noticeable exception – it can strike some animals, especially dogs, before they become a 1-year-old.

"Any animal can get arthritis, but dogs and cats especially seem to be prone to get the disease," Kerwin says. "It is not unusual for a dog to have a check-up in its first year, and the veterinarian can already detect signs of arthritis. It means the owner will almost certainly have to make some adjustments in the way the animal is cared for and the amount of exercise and movement the dog gets."

Certain breeds are especially prone to get arthritis, and these include the Rottweiler, golden retrievers, and Labrador retrievers.

Kerwin says there are several signs pet owners may look for if they suspect their animal might have arthritis.

"First is an obvious decrease in activity," she explains. "The animal may not want to go as far as it used to on a walk. It may not want to walk at all.”

"In cats, it is sometimes a little harder to detect arthritis, but the animal may appear to be less active and may have trouble jumping on top of a chair or table."

Treatments can vary, depending on the severity of arthritis, Kerwin says.

Surgery, she explains, is sometimes recommended, especially if a hip or other joint is severely affected.

"Drugs are often prescribed, and ‘joint diets’ have also become available for dogs and cats in recent years,” Kerwin explains. “Physical rehabilitation can be a very effective treatment in controlling signs associated with arthritis.”

As with humans, weather changes – especially colder weather – can often be felt in bones and joints, and these changes can affect your pet, Kerwin adds.

"Probably the most frequent question veteri-narians get asked about arthritis in pets is,
'Should I continue to exercise my pet?' There's no easy answer," Kerwin believes.

"Low-impact exercise, like a walk, is better than no exercise at all,” Kerwin adds,
“Swimming is an ideal exercise for dogs if they will do it, and even cats can swim in a water treadmill. That's why it's best to consult with a veterinarian to get the treatment plans best suited for your pet. Pet arthritis is not a death sentence for your animal, but owners need to be aware that the animal cannot do certain things."

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at