These days, well cared for and well fed pets are living longer and longer. With this increased lifespan, there comes an increase in the likelihood of so-called geriatric diseases and the most common of these, in dogs at least, is osteoarthritis, also known as OA.
In fact OA is no longer classed as an affliction affecting only older animals.1 in 5 dogs over a year old are thought to suffer from this chronic disease that affects joint causing pain and reduced mobility. Cats, rabbits, reptiles, birds and small rodents can also develop OA, although it's harder to diagnose because of their smaller size and greater agility.
Larger animals are more likely to be affected than smaller ones, but if you notice any of the signs of OA mentioned below in any sized pet, you should mention them to your vet.
It's thought that less than 1/4 of dogs with OA are being treated for the pain they are in, and in other species that percentage is certain to be much higher.
Most owners take their pet to the vet if they notice persistent lameness, but in it's early stages the signs of OA may not be obvious.
Some early signs of osteoarthritis may include lethargy, clinginess and hiding in places they aren't usually found. They may be uninterested in a favourite toy or even food. Some owners say their pet's temperament has changed and they can seem depressed. Stiffness after exercise or reluctance to get up after lying down are more obvious signs and sometimes your pet may show uncharacteristic aggression or fear when touched. A common observation from owners is that their pet no longer climbs stairs or gets up on the furniture.
Any of these behaviours should be checked out by a vet as it's not only osteoarthritis that can cause these signs.
But if your pet does have OA, it doesn't have to suffer. There are many drugs out there that can help give them a better quality of life and your vet will be able to tell you which is best for your pet.
These drugs don't just control pain; they reduce the amount of damage caused by the disease and improve the mobility of the affected joint. So it's important not to stop giving the medication as soon as you see an improvement. Regular exercise, and a healthy weight will also limit the joint damage, so consult your vet if you need advice on either of these subjects.
Owners are often surprised at how much younger their pets act when their pain is controlled. They move around freely, enjoy their walks more and frequently start playing again.
So if you think your pet is slowing down due to 'old age', it's worth consulting your vet. You may be able to give your pet a new lease of life.