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Pain and Mobility Issues in Pets

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recently published an article about pain management and mobility issues in companion animals. According to AAHA, the foundations of disease begin when pets are young—even a few months old into young adulthood.

Pet owners need to work with their veterinarian throughout all life stages of their pet to ensure that osteoarthritis (OA) has a minimal impact on the animal’s quality of life. A veterinarian can help owners look for ways to integrate foundational strategies with other multimodal options that make sense for each individual pet and its lifestyle.

If your pet is diagnosed with osteoarthritis-related pain, here are a few strategies that provide the foundation for slowing the progression of the disease, minimizing compounding factors, and improving the quality of life.

Nutrition affects growth rates in young dogs and weight management in all pets. Diet plays an important role in how developmental diseases impact pre-disposed breeds. Excess calories and protein with too much dietary calcium supplements may cause puppies to grow too much, too fast.

Obesity is a growing concern in adult dogs. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 22 percent of dog owners and 15 percent of cat owners believed their pets were normal weight when, in fact, the pets were overweight or obese. That makes diet a perfect place to start with OA cases.

Controlled exercise is important to manage OA pain and mobility in both early and later stage OA. Your veterinarian can recommend appropriate exercise for maintaining mobility and overall health without causing joint stress or additional injury to your pet.

In addition to injury prevention, dogs with OA need routine, stage-appropriate exercise.

  • Early OA stage pets require moderate daily exercise, with specific fitness plans for more active pets.
  • Later OA stage pets need short sessions of moderate exercise a few times each day. Additional low-impact conditioning (swimming, underwater treadmill, or rehabilitation exercises) under the direction of a qualified professional may be beneficial.

Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. While there are many pain medications, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are the most commonly used class of drugs for canine OA pain. Your veterinarian has the option to use NSAIDS in short-term and long-term scenarios because of their rapid and predictable effectiveness for OA associated pain.

Supplements. A majority of veterinarians are recommending supplements to support joint health in dogs and cats.

It is important to remember that medication is only one component of an OA management plan. Many options can be combined based on OA stage and the severity of clinical signs. Your veterinarian can help set expectations, construct diet and exercise plans, and seek multimodal strategies that make the most sense for your pet.

Lastly, it is vital that pet owners understand that OA management is not a one-time visit, one-time fix. If owners notice any changes in their pet such as signs of more pain, increased limping or mobility issues, physical or behavioral changes, this may indicate a side effect. If you have any problems implementing the pain management plan at home or see changes in your pet, contact your veterinarian immediately.

by Paul DeMars, DVM, DABVP

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