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Ultimately, osteoarthritis, or degeneration of the cartilage in the joint, is a radiographic diagnosis. Clinical signs in your pet may be very subtle or not cause you to immediately think about bony issues as the root issue.
Consider decreases or abrupt changes in your pet’s appetite. Once very happy on dry food, you find yourself having to feed canned food to stimulate food intake. Versus considering your pet spoiled (or you very well-trained) consider pain in the joints of the jaw making it uncomfortable to continue breaking down dry food. If you find your pet is reluctant to approach the food bowl, instead laying down and looking at it sadly, consider that it may be painful to navigate across the kitchen floor and so he chooses not to eat. Try bringing the food closer. Animals with neck pain may be more apt to eat from an elevated food dish versus flexing down to eat off ground level.
Age is not a clinical condition, and healthy dogs do not get older and suddenly become inactive. Changes in activity level can be indications of joint discomfort. The “old dog laying on the porch all the time because he is old” adage may not hold water when consideration is given to potentially painful joints. From clinical experience, proper management of such “old” dogs can magically make them feel like puppies again and the porch a lot less popular place to be.
With chronic pain, pets, as people, can become depressed and show changes in attitude. Reluctance to want to play ball, go on walks, navigate stairs, or spend time with the family can indicate underlying discomfort.
Perhaps the most obvious clinical sign of osteoarthritis is pain. While vocalizing, whining, or crying are obvious signs of discomfort, some animals may exhibit pain is much more subtle ways. Hiding, cowering, or whimpering when being approached may be signs of discomfort. Pain may also be exhibited through changes in social activity or sudden episodes of aggression.
Consider these not-so-obvious clinical signs when assessing the current health status of your pet and consult with your veterinarian regarding your suspicions. Multiple modalities, from joint products to support the structure of the cartilage, pain medications to address discomfort, physical therapy to promote movement and muscular tone, and alternative therapies are available to support the well-being of your companion.