Browsing tag: arthritis

The Drugs Don’t Work – Or Do They?

Today I put to sleep a lovely old Collie owned by a lovely man. It was definitely the right decision, the dog was really struggling on his legs and had become very depressed and withdrawn. This is a common scenario and very often the way that arthritic pets come to their end. In fact, a very similar thing happened to our beloved family Labrador, Molly, a few years ago and although she was still trying to get about and clearly happy to be with us, she was obviously in a lot of pain which could no longer be controlled. Euthanasia in these situations is a true kindness and although still desperately upsetting, is by far the best thing for the pet.

However, just as I was discussing the euthanasia of this dog with his owner, he said something that stopped me in my tracks.

‘Well, we did try him on some of your arthritis medication a few months ago but to be honest it didn’t seem to be doing anything more than the Asprin I was giving him, so we stopped it’

Now, at this stage in the process there was no point in me making any comment on this statement (or my thoughts on giving pets human medications!) and you may think it sounds like quite a reasonable thing to say but to be honest, I really had to bite my tongue.

Arthritis is a very common problem in older pets but it is also very under-diagnosed because the signs can be difficult to spot, mainly because our animals are so stoical in the face of chronic pain. Even just a bit of stiffness after rest can indicate a significant problem. The medications we have to treat it are extremely effective but often, and especially in the older pets with more advanced arthritis, just one drug on it’s own doesn’t completely combat the problem and they need a combination of medicines to really keep them comfortable. (Anyone with an older relative will probably be familiar with this concept; my granny seems to be on hundreds of tablets!)

Our darling Molly was practically rattling in her last few months I had her on so many medications and supplements These kept her comfortable but eventually, they could no longer control her pain and give her the strength to get around, so the kindest thing was to let her go.

My message is, if you have an older pet, firstly, don’t assume that them slowing down and stiffening up is a ‘normal’ part of aging (well, in a way it is but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it!) and if the medicines your vet gives you don’t make much difference at first, don’t assume that that is because there isn’t a problem or that nothing else can be done, it may just be they need different tablets or combination therapy to give them their bounce back! This is far preferable to leaving them to struggle in silence and although, in the end, their arthritis may mean they need to be put to sleep, it will certainly give them more time and mean their final months with you are pain free and comfortable.

And finally, please don’t give your pets ANY human medications without talking to your vet about it first. Drugs often work very differently in animals than they do in people and some can be actually harmful.

Ask a vet online – “My dog is drinking a lot, and seems to be starving to the point of raiding my Shopping bag. She has Arthrities and her back end seems to be wobbly.”

Question from Gurnos Tenants Residents

My dog is 14 and is drinking a lot, and seems to be starving to the point of raiding my Shopping bag, something she has never done before. She has Arthrities and sometimes her back end seems to be wobbly.

Answer from Shanika Winters MRCVS online vet

Thank you for your interesting question which has four parts, I will discuss one at a time.

Your dog is drinking a lot.

The first thing to do when you have noticed that your pet is drinking more is to work out the actual amount of water being drunk. This is most easily done by measuring out how much water you put into the water bowl, also how much is left each time you change the water. It is best to work out how much your pet is drinking over a few days as this will give an average amount per day taking into account differences on each day. We usually consider a dog to be drinking too much if water intake is more than 100ml/kg/day that would work out as around 2L for a 20kg dog (a medium sized dog). So when you discuss your pet’s water intake with your vet they will want to know the amount your pet drinks a day, its weight and if there have been any changes to your pet’s diet. Dry food diets tend to lead to pets drinking more water than wet food (tins or pouches).

Your vet will also want to know if your pet is passing urine as normal or if this has changed in amount or frequency, often it is helpful to collect a sample of urine in a clean container and take this to your vet for analysis.

Increased drinking is called polydipsia (PD) and can be an indication many conditions including kidney disease, infection, hormone imbalances and diabetes. It is really important to discuss any other symptoms your pet is showing with your vet so that the most appropriate urine and blood tests can be performed to find out the cause of your pets PD.

Your dog is raiding your shopping bags.

When a pet has an increased hunger we call this polyphagia (PP). It is normal for dogs to eat more food when their energy needs go up e.g. when the weather is cold, if they are more active than usual or during the later stages of pregnancy or lactation (milk production). So provided there is no obvious reason for your pet to be eating more this is definitely something worth discussing with your vet.

Ideally if your pet is weighed regularly and records have been kept of this any changes will help to make a diagnosis as to what is causing your pets PP. Some of the conditions mentioned for PD can also lead to PP.

Arthritis and a wobbly back end.

Arthritis is a degenerative condition of the joints which is very common in pets as they get older. There is increasing damage to the joints which can lead to difficulty standing and walking as well as pain. Your vet will diagnose arthritis based on the signs your pet is showing such as difficulty getting up and walking, wasting away of muscles, physical examination plus or minus x-rays. Often the joints feel stiff and your pet will object to their joints being moved through a normal range of movements.

The hips, elbows and back are common sites for arthritis and may well lead to the wobbly back end that you describe your dog as having. There are other causes for a wobbly back end such as spinal disease other than arthritis, general weakness and poor circulation.

After discussing the points you have raised as regards your dog I think it would be advisable for you to take your dog for a full examination by your vet, please take as much of the extra information you can to help a diagnosis to be made so that your pet can receive the best treatment possible.

A few simple blood tests and or x-rays will help your vet to work out how best to treat your pet, we do not like to just assume that changes are due to a pet ageing. Where possible we want to provide the best quality of life for all animals. I hope that this answer has been helpful to you and that your dog soon returns to a good quality of life.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

How Do You Know If A Cat Is In Pain?

DenbyIt sounds like such a simple question, but the answer is actually far more complicated than we think. And it’s not just cat owners who struggle with this question, those of us who have studied these creatures for years still frequently miss signs of feline pain. Because when it comes to showing signs of pain (or any illness for that matter), cats are masters of disguise. In the feline world, complaining gets you nowhere, and showing signs of weakness can get you killed. Sure, some cats in pain will cry out, but if you see a cat crying out in pain, the problem is likely very severe indeed. Besides, cats cry out for many reasons, so even if you do see this, how can you tell if it is due to pain or some other form of stress? Next time you think your cat may be in pain, try to remember some of the following signs of feline discomfort:

• Lameness:
Ok, we’ll start with an easy one. But you’d be surprised how many people come to me with a limping cat who insist that they are not in pain. If your cat is limping, he’s doing it for a reason. And that reason is usually pain. Even if your cat doesn’t have a limp, check for other signs like difficulty jumping up or down from the bed or finding that it’s not worth their effort to climb the stairs anymore. Arthritis is hugely underdiagnosed in cats because many owners either don’t observe or don’t think to mention these changes. If you do notice something unusual with your cat’s behaviour, please speak up as sometimes vets don’t think to ask these kinds of questions.

• Vocalisation
Yes, as previously mentioned, some cats in pain (particularly severe, sudden pain) will cry out or howl. If you see this, take them to the vet immediately to have them checked out, even if you can’t see anything else wrong with them. But it’s not always a howl that they make; sometimes it’s just a more insistent meow, or even a lack of sounds such as normal greetings or cries for food.

• Decreased appetite
Speaking of food, it’s true that some cats in pain will either stop eating, or not eat as much as normal. But not every cat will respond this way because in the wild, a cat that doesn’t eat will die so if they are able to eat despite even very significant pain, they often will.

• Hiding
A cat in pain will often hide from you. You may notice them spending more and more time under the bed or in the back of the cupboard. Or, you may notice that they are quite restless and have a hard time settling in any one place. To you, it may just seem like odd behaviour but to them, it can be a cry for help. Hiding isn’t the only behaviour that can indicate pain, any change in their normal routine may be a clue no matter how subtle, so try to take notice and figure out why the change occurred.

• Eye position and expression
This one is much more subtle, and unless you are very observant you may not pick up on it at all. A painful cat may sometimes have slanted eyes that are squinting or partially closed. They may also have dilated pupils (the blacks of their eyes look very large or ‘wide eyed’), and a generally strange expression on their face. Or they may seem to ‘zone out’ and just stare blankly ahead. Now there are lots of reasons why a cat will show one or more of these things, so don’t be too quick to diagnose your cat as painful if you don’t notice any other signs. But if you do notice a strange look in their eyes, it’s probably best to have them checked out by a vet.

Amber-on-grass• Posture
If you picture a happy cat in your mind, you may think of one who is relaxed and playfully rolling around in response to a good petting session. Now consider the opposite – a painful cat will often sit in a hunched, guarded position. Their muscles may be quite tense, and they will flinch or pull away when touched. Some cats just don’t like being touched, but if yours normally does and then suddenly doesn’t, consider pain as a possible cause.

• Aggression
As previously mentioned, a painful cat won’t want to be touched and this often leads to aggression. If you stroke your cat and he turns around to bite or scratch you, or if he hisses at you when touched, or even if he just starts to twitch his tail in an agitated manner when there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it, get him checked out by the vet.

• Licking, chewing, or fur loss
Cats will sometimes make a fuss over the particular part of their body that is in pain, but this is not always the case. Some cats with cystitis (bladder disease) will lick their tummies and cause fur loss in that area. Likewise, some cats with arthritis in a particular joint may lick or chew at that area more frequently than normal. Rarely, this licking is enough to cause damage to the overlying skin.

• Other medical changes
There are some signs of pain that only your vet is likely to pick up on (although you may notice that something just doesn’t seem right), including increased heart rate, breathing rate, temperature or blood pressure. Because these things require the help of a professional to properly measure, it is very important that you take your cat in to the vet whenever you suspect something out of the ordinary.

As you can see, pain in cats is no simple subject. There are some obvious signs of course, but many more that may go unnoticed for some time. Therefore, if you do happen to notice any of the above signs, it’s always best to take your cat to the vet to have them checked out as soon as possible. Even then, it can be very difficult to tell if they are in pain, so sometimes the best test is to treat for any possible pain and then re-evaluate to see if it made any difference. Whatever you do, try not to ignore it because unlike humans, who are very good at expressing discomfort, cats will most often suffer in silence and it’s our job to make sure they don’t have to.

If you are worried that your cat may be showing signs of pain described above, talk to your vet or try our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to check any other symptoms you notice.

Looking after the Older Horse

When I was training as a vet, a 20 year old horse was considered really quite old. Now, however, I regularly find myself working with healthy horses in their late twenties and thirties – even a few that go on into their forties!

That said, horses don’t age uniformly – one may be sprightly and fit at 30, while her paddock mate is really feeling his age at 20, so there’s a lot of variation. The challenge is maintaining them at the best quality of life for as long as possible.

To do so, we need to consider three things:

• Work and exercise
• Preventative health (worming, dental care etc)
• Disease management and medication

I’ll deal with these in sequence, although really they are of course all interconnected.

Work and Exercise

PerryI’d like to introduce Perry, a horse I’ve known for many, many years. Born in 1986, by 2002 Perry was a successful Eventer, competing on the Affiliated circuit, and usually well up in the places. However, by then he was starting to slow up a bit, and his then-owner decided it was time to reduce his workload. He was struggling in particular with the dressage and show jumping, so they sold him on to a friend of mine as a Pony Club horse for Tetrathlon. All he had to do was carry his (fairly novice) rider round a cross country course – the phase he enjoyed the most anyway. Relieved of the need to work in an outline, or in collection, he flourished at Tetrathlon, going on to compete at the National Championships.
Of course, in time, his low-grade arthritis (which I’ll talk about more later) meant that he was struggling with the cross country requirements, and he moved into a semi-retirement as a hack. He’d seen it all, done it all, and was as close to 100% in traffic, tractors and low flying aircraft as any horse could be.
For most horses, as long as they can work, they want to – generally (and there are always exceptions!), it isn’t in a horse’s best interests to take him out of work one day and retire him to a field. A gradual wind-down over several years is kinder, and helps to keep him interested and alert.
So, by changing career, Perry had an extra five years of competition, and then many more years of useful work – simply because his various owners were wise enough not to over face him, but to play to his strengths.

Preventative Health

I’ve talked before about the importance of regular dental work – in the older horse, it is doubly important. As the horse ages, his teeth undergo a number of changes. Although it appears that teeth grow constantly, that is in fact an illusion – the adult teeth are pretty much a fixed length, but most of the tooth is hidden away within the gums (the reserve crown). As the tooth is worn down by chewing, more of this reserve is extruded (which is, by the way, the basis of ageing horses by dentition). However, sooner or later, this reserve is expended, and the teeth “cup out”, becoming small, loosely held, concave structures, of limited use for chewing. Good, regular dental care can help delay the onset, and can help the horse to manage as the teeth cup out. Remember, as long as there are a few pairs of teeth in occlusion (i.e. Facing each other), the horse can still chew, he’ll just be very slow about it! In my experience, teeth generally start to cup out about 30-35 years of age, but it depends on their dental history – more use and wear and tear means the teeth are ground down faster.
Worming is also inceasingly important in the older horse, simply because although they may have higher immunity to worms (this is still debated, but does seem likely), they also have less reserves to cope if they have a heavy infestation. The spring is a particularly risky time, as sometimes large numbers of small redworms can emerge all at once, causing massive gut wall damage. It is important to make sure that at some point over the winter, you use a wormer that is active against hibernating (hypobiotic) worm larvae – currently, the only wormers on the market that have this activity are a full 5 day course of Panacur, and (reportedly) Equest.

Foot care is always important, as older horses can suffer some terrible hoof capsule problems if left untreated.

I always recommend that people keep up vaccinating their horses, even if they’re not competing or going out. Equine influenza probably isn’t essential in a stay-at-home horse or pony (although they can still contract it if they’re in contact with a younger friend who does go out and do), but Tetanus vaccination is essential. Just because a horse is old doesn’t mean you can stop vaccinating, because tetanus kills horses of any age just as easily. It’s also a really useful opportunity to have a general “MOT” and get your vet to check the horse over thoroughly, to detect and problems before they become too serious.

Disease Management

Although many horses lead a long and healthy life, the probability is that as they enter old age, they will suffer from one or more “chronic diseases”. These are generally low-level conditions, and in the older horse are usually manageable rather than curable. Probably the most common are arthritis and Cushing’s disease, but malabsorbtion diseases and some tumours aren’t that uncommon either.

The key factor is managing the disease in such a way that the horse doesn’t suffer from the symptoms, and is able to keep up as much work as possible, for as long as possible.

Arthritis is perhaps the commonest condition of older horses, and those that aren’t so old. In most cases, it is due to simple wear and tear on the joint surfaces. The harder a horse has worked, the more rapid the onset of arthritic changes. It’s often the case that, initially, a horse will have trouble working in an outline, and perhaps with show jumps, but hacking and cross country, with it’s more open jumping style, is less of a problem. This of course was exactly the case with Perry. Managing arthritis is a lot more than just monitoring exercise, however – nowadays, we no longer need to just accept “a bit of stiffness” in the older horse. It’s often best to use several different strategies. I generally recommend a combination of joint supplementation (feed supplements such as Cosequin and Newmarket Joint Supplement are the most popular, while injectables like Adequan are more expensive but possibly more effective) with analgesics (bute and/or Danilon, usually) as required. Although painkillers like bute don’t address the underlying disease, they reduce the inflammation and associated pain. Although there can be side effects, it really isn’t fair to put a horse through the pain and discomfort of arthritis without some pain relief; if side effects are a particular concern, Danilon has a much lower risk, although it seems to be a little less effective. Its usually best to start out using bute only as required, and then build up the dose as necessary. Perry, for example, started using bute about 10 years ago, but just a sachet or so immediately after a competition. As he’s got older, he uses more, and at the moment he’s on an average of 4-5 sachets a week – enough to keep him comfortable (and galloping round his paddock like a yearling!).

Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is most common in older horses, and is caused by a micro-tumour in the pituitary gland. This results in an excess of circulating cortisol (a stress hormone), that causes the characteristic symptoms of abnormal fat pads (typically over the eyes and as saddle-packs), excessive drinking and urination, and increasing susceptibility to minor infections and laminitis. Ironically, the “classic” shaggy coat of the Cushingoid horse isn’t entirely due to cortisol – the presence of a tumour in the pituitary causes a malfunction in the part of the brain that controls body temperature, causing retention of a winter coat for longer. Cushing’s isn’t curable in horses, but symptoms can be partially controlled by management (regular clipping, diet and exercise control and remedial shoeing), or largely eliminated with some medications – Cyproheptadine (Periactin) may be of some use; however, Pergolide (Prascend) is highly effective, and is licensed for the treatment of Cushing’s.

Gut problems of one sort or another are also more common in older horses – these may be malabsorbtion issues, caused by thickening of the gut wall, or an increased susceptibility to colic. This may be due to a diffuse Lymphoma (a cancer of the white blood cells) which is the commonest tumour of older horses. In these cases, the key is to feed a highly digestible, high feed value ration, possibly with a probiotic to enhance digestion.

Tooth loss is also a problem in the older horse – as I discussed earlier, eventually the teeth “cup out”, at which point there’s little more that can be done, dentally. The next phase is that the tooth falls out, leaving naked gums. I remember once doing a regular tooth rasping on a 38 year old mare – I put a hand in to have a feel around, and four teeth fell out in my palm… (she actually did better once the teeth were out than she had in months!). An edentulous (toothless) horse needs a soft, ultra-high fibre diet; typically a mash made from fibre pellets or pencils. Horses can live healthily for quite some time on such a diet – however, once your horse has reached this stage, it is probably time to consider how long you can fairly keep him going.

If you can stay on top of all these points, you have every chance of keeping your older horse going for a long, healthy life – as Perry has had, and indeed continues to have.

If you are worried about any symptoms your horse or pony is showing, please talk to your vet or check how urgent the problem may be by using our Interactive Equine Symptom Guide written by expert equine vets.

More Useful Information

Examining your pet

Simple ways to check the health of your pet. Vets use these techniques as part of their clinical examiniation.

Medicating your pet

Arming you with the same simple techniques for stress free pill giving.

Worming & Flea Treatment

Information and advice in treating your pet for worms and fleas.