Arthritis, an inflammation of the joint, is one of the most comment ailments of older dogs and cats, causing chronic pain and potentially affecting their quality of life. Over 90% of geriatric cats and one in five dogs over the age of seven are afflicted with the condition. The most common arthritis in dogs and cats is osteoarthritis, which occurs when a joint is unstable causing abnormal movement of the bones within it. This abnormal movement breaks down the cartilage lining joints, and over time the bones begin rubbing against one another, creating chronic inflammation and pain.
Recognizing the Signs
Some signs and symptoms of arthritis, like limping or favoring one or more legs, may be easily recognizable. Others are more subtle. You may notice that your pet no longer wants to do things she used to do. Your dog may have difficulty going up and down stairs, or your cat may no longer jump onto countertops or high perches. Your pet may tire more easily and spend more time sleeping. Pets in pain may spend more time licking, chewing, or biting an area and may become more irritable, potentially biting or snapping at you if you pet or handle them in a way that could cause pain. Cats may start urinating or defecating outside of the litter box because getting in and out of it is painful. Arthritic pets also often develop muscle atrophy due to inactivity and decreased use of the muscles.
Arthritis and Cold Weather
Scientific research on the effects of weather on arthritis is limited, but many people dealing with arthritis themselves agree that the changing season can cause additional stiffness and pain. This can occur this in pets as well.
Keeping your pet warm and comfortable during the winter months can help ease his discomfort. Create a warm, cozy, and comfortable place for him to rest, potentially in a spot slightly elevated off the floor. Remember, the air near the floor is much colder than a few feet above, and cold drafts are more easily felt closer to the floor. Special equipment, such as ramps can help pets go up onto higher furniture, giving them the ability to rest in a warm spot with fewer drafts. Sleeping on hard surfaces can make your pets feel achy and stiff. Give your pet a bed that is soft, supportive, and heated. There are a number of options for pet beds made of memory foam or with built-in heating pads, that can ease some of your pet’s pain.
Keeping your pet moving is also important to ease arthritis pain, but this often is challenging during the winter months. We often feel less inclined to get up and moving in the cold. Supporting our pets with arthritis means we must combat our own reluctance to stay active. Keep your cat moving by entertaining her with her favorite toys, like a laser pointer or wand toy. To ease potential pain from rolling around on a hard floor, put down some bedding in the area where she is playing to cushion her as she stalks and pounces. Make an effort to get out at least twice a day to walk the dog. Decreased activity means muscle atrophy will more likely increase, giving our dogs less strength to partake in activities that ultimately can help their arthritis improve. It may also be a good idea to give your dog a warm coat when venturing outside. While a lot of dogs do have thick hides to protect them from the cold, most dogs do require an additional layer of covering to feel warm.
Dogs need to go outside to relieve themselves, and this can be more difficult in the snow and ice. Posturing for these activities is a significant challenge senior pets face daily, and it is more challenging when ice and snow accumulate. Make it a point to clear ice and snow in driveways and around fences, and give your dog a clear path to navigate when going out side to do his business.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of arthritis in pets is essential to helping treat them. Taking a few additional steps to alleviate their discomfort in the winter months can go a long way to improving your pets quality of life and happiness.
For more information about pet arthritis and alleviating their pain in pets during the winter months, check out some of these resources: