Why is my pet “slowing down?”

As pets get older, pet owners tend to notice them “slowing down” at home. Instead of running up and down the stairs or jumping on the couch, your dog may walk more slowly or beg you to pick them up. Your cat may concentrate for a few seconds prior to jumping, or even do a half jump or bunny hop prior to making the attempt. Cats may also try to slide instead of jumping down from furniture. You may even notice that your pet has a stiff gait during or after a walk, or even changes in your pet’s musculature or body type at home. Did you know that these signs of “slowing down” may be evidence that your pet is in pain?

Pets do not show obvious signs of pain like people do. Because pain can be a sign of weakness, animals typically will try to continue to act normal even if they are painful. They may not vocalize or show any symptoms other than changes in mobility or limping. Some pets will even continue to run and play, even if they are feeling pain. Cats are one of the hardest pets to identify pain symptoms due to their stoic nature. Because our pets can not tell us when they are hurting, it is important to know your pet’s normal behavior and note any changes that may indicate an issue. 

Limping is a definitive sign of pain in pets. Other signs of pain in cats and dogs may include changes in appetite or demeanor, lethargy or increased sleeping, decreased desire to play with toys or go on walks, or muscle loss. Cats may also hide more, develop an unkempt coat from grooming less, show different facial expressions than usual and be more prone to vocalizing, biting or scratching when being petted. If you notice any of these signs in your pet, please contact your veterinarian.

The most common cause of joint pain in dogs and cats is arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints that can develop over time due to overexertion, previous injury, or age. According to a study performed in 2011, over 60% of cats surveyed over the age of 6 had evidence of arthritis in at least one joint. This statistic increased to over 80% over the age of 12. Additionally, approximately 1 in 4 dogs is diagnosed with arthritis at some point in their lifetime.

With arthritis being such a common issue in our pets, how can we prevent and treat it? The number one best way to minimize arthritis pain and decrease risk over time is through keeping your pet at an ideal weight. Obesity or being overweight puts more pressure on your pet’s joints, leading to increased pain and damage. By maintaining a lean weight, some of this pressure is alleviated, increasing your pet’s comfort and minimizing joint pressure. 

The most common modalities to manage arthritis and associated pain may include glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation, omega 3/6 fatty acid supplementation, regular light exercise, pain medication including NSAIDs, acupuncture therapy, physical therapy, and laser therapy. A multimodal approach is best to provide maximum comfort to your pet. 

How is arthritis diagnosed in your pet? Your veterinarian will be able to identify pain based on physical examination and other diagnostic tests such as X-rays. Stiffness, swelling in the joint, decrease in range of motion, or crepitus (noisy joints) may indicate signs of pain or arthritis. If your pet is diagnosed with arthritis, lab tests may be recommended to assess your pet’s ability to tolerate pain medication. If your pet is started on a long term medication such as an NSAID, Lab tests may be performed regularly by your veterinarian, such as every 6 months, to ensure your pet’s organs are functioning appropriately and can tolerate the medication. 

Arthritis is a very common disease seen in older dogs and cats, especially animals that are overweight or have experienced a previous injury. There are many factors that can play into diagnosis and treatment of arthritis. If you are suspicious that your pet is in pain or they are exhibiting any changes in their normal daily routine, we recommend consulting your veterinarian to help determine the next best steps for you and your pet.

Your pet’s health and comfort is an important aspect of their quality of life and the human animal bond. If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our veterinarians, please contact us at 704-847-8466 or email us at wah@wahcares.com.