Dr. Shawn Finch, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and an associate at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospitals in Omaha, Neb. knows firsthand how difficult
having a pet with osteoarthritis can be—her 16-year-old cat, Max, has been a challenge to treat for years. But he does well
and is comfortable most of the time, which is Dr. Finch's hope for any of her patients. That's why she makes it a priority
to help her clients identify the early signs of osteoarthritis in pets and get a jumpstart on diagnosing and treating the
Dig in for the diagnosis
Although osteoarthritis was once associated almost exclusively with older, large-breed dogs, Dr. Finch says she's seeing the
condition more often in older cats and small-breed dogs these days as well as younger, overweight dogs. And a lot of that
can be attributed to the fact that pet owners are paying closer attention to the four-legged members of the family. "Families
are becoming very good at recognizing possible signs of osteoarthritis and other health issues," says Dr. Finch. "They're
bringing their pets in to be checked."
And while some pet owners are quick to bring their dog or cat to the veterinarian to address an immediate concern, others
might need a little more nudging when it comes to identifying a medical condition. A good opportunity to really dig deep and
get information from pet owners is during a routine wellness exam, says Dr. Finch. Simply asking pet owners if they've noticed
any changes in their pet's behavior or activity level can lead to a discovery about an underlying condition (go to
http://dvm360.com/arthritisform to download a free client form on the topic).
Next step: Customize a plan
Once a diagnosis has been made, it's good to work with the family to come up with a treatment plan that the pet owners can
get behind, one that achieves the primary goal—relieving the pet's pain. Glycosaminoglycans, nutritional supplements, and
NSAIDs have long been the mainstay of most osteoarthritis treatment plans, but Dr. Finch is also a strong believer in environmental
modifications to make the pet's life more comfortable at home. Ramps and pet-tailored steps to couches, beds, and other areas
that pets jump up to can make life much easier for arthritic dogs, as can soft or orthopedic bedding. Cats can benefit from
lowered scratching or climbing posts that minimize the need to jump or take big steps. Most pet owners will be receptive to
treatment suggestions if you give them options and come up with a plan that's custom-tailored to their pet—and easy for the
If the pet is carrying a few extra pounds, Dr. Finch also discusses nutritional therapy to get the pet back into a healthier
weight range. And gradually adding exercise back into the pet's daily routine is critical, too. Some clients may also be willing
to explore other less traditional ways to manage their pet's osteoarthritis, such as physical therapy or acupuncture.
But the No. 1 thing that Dr. Finch tells her clients is that pets with osteoarthritis need patience and grace. They're slower
to rise and walk, they're achy, and they're often less receptive to affection, even to the point of becoming aggressive. But
if families are prepared and ready to deal with the challenges that arise with an arthritic pet, managing the condition can
be less discouraging.
"Osteoarthritis is a specific, treatable condition," says Finch. "Although it's a progressive disease, it usually has a good