Pet Doctor: As pets age, watch for arthritis signs

As our pets are definitely living longer due to the advances in medicine and in nutrition, it is important that we ensure that these years are quality years.

One of the most common issues any small-animal veterinarian sees with any pet over five years is the possibility of arthritis.

Smaller pets may not have issues until much later, while larger breed dogs can have joint issues as early as four and five years. One of the biggest contributing factors to a pet's joint health is its weight. Obviously, this is one factor any responsible pet owner can help keep in check. Obese pets are always at a substantially greater risk for joint problems, which can greatly affect a pet's quality of life.

It is my goal as a veterinarian to advise all pet owners on easy ways to keep their pets healthy. No one can change a pet's genetics, so it is critical to help each pet in every other way to provide a happy and healthy life.

Of course, there are prescription drugs which can be prescribed for any pet who reaches that point of discomfort or pain. However, just like all other prescription medications, there is always the potential for side effects. I always try to prescribe these medications on an as-needed basis, versus a daily regimen, when possible.

Add a supplement

One great way to provide your pet with long-term joint health is by adding a quality joint supplement that contains both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Hopefully, most of you recognize these ingredients because you also are aware of the benefits for good joint health.

Multiple studies show the benefits of adding glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to be joint protective.

These joint supplements are not prescription medications, but they are considered nutraceuticals.

A key point to remember is that the combination of both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate seems to work much better than either ingredient alone.

They work synergistically to provide cartilage protection and ultimately normal joint function. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are the building blocks of healthy joint fluid.

The great thing about these joint supplements is that they provide safe, prescription-free, long-term joint health, especially when compared to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or steroids.

As your pet ages, it is important to watch for signs that can indicate a need for joint supplementation.

Warning signs

Some of the most common warning signs of arthritis are: your pet has difficulty getting up from lying down; your pet is slow or hesitant about taking the stairs or jumping up and down from their favorite spot on the couch; your pet is slower on its walks or limps slightly; and your cat may experience difficulty getting in or out of its litter box. If your pet shows any of these signs, have him examined by your veterinarian to best determine what is best for your individual pet.

Also, if you know that your pet may be genetically predisposed to joint issues or has had surgery on any joint, you should consider using a joint supplement. I think every veterinarian is trained that prevention is key. I can truly attest to the use of glucosamine and chondroitin in young to middle-aged pets as a great way to long-term joint health. If you have a very active pet, especially a working dog no matter his profession, consider using a joint supplement from an early age to protect their joints from the daily wear and tear.

One last important thing for pet owners to remember is there is little oversight of ingredient quality and quantity in all nutraceuticals. So, this is one area where I recommend only top-name brands that have proven ingredient quality. For example, Nutramax Laboratories produces excellent joint supplements for both cats and dogs called Dasuquin or Cosequin. They come in a chewable form for dogs and a flavored powder for cats, which makes it easy for every pet owner to administer.

Every joint supplement should be given at a loading dose for four to six weeks to provide the necessary boost needed. Then a maintenance dose is given for life to provide long-term support.

As a small-animal veterinarian, I recommend the earlier mentioned joint supplements for all of my patients when the time is right. Joint health is important to a quality life for all pets. Talk to your veterinarian about using glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for your pet's health and happiness.

Dr. Tracy Acosta, is a veterinarian at Acosta Veterinary Hospital in Biloxi. If you have questions for this column, write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach MS 39560 and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.