How to protect dogs & cats with arthritis during winter

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How to protect dogs & cats with arthritis during winter - Senior Black Lab Smiling

Osteoarthritis - commonly referred to as “arthritis” - is joint inflammation resulting from wear and tear as our pets age.  The smooth cartilage covering the surface of the joints breaks down, causing the exposed bone surfaces to rub together. This leads to pain and limited mobility as the disease progresses.

The most recognizable sign of arthritis in dogs and cats is lameness, but subtle symptoms appear first:

  • Stiffness when first getting up
  • Being slow or reluctant to move
  • Less running and jumping
  • Difficulty with stairs or getting in and out of the car

Arthritic cats also become less flexible and have trouble reaching their entire bodies for grooming.  As a result, many older cats have a zone of unkempt, matted fur along their lower backs and over their hips.

If you notice your older dog or cat becoming less active or showing other signs like this, they may suffer from arthritis. This degenerative disease can, unfortunately, significantly diminish your pet's quality of life.

Factors contributing to arthritis include:

  • Genetic predisposition and breed
  • Aging
  • Obesity
  • Lifestyle and activity
  • Previous injuries

If you suspect your pet might have arthritis, seek the counsel of a veterinarian to diagnose your cat or dog properly. A veterinarian can help devise an arthritis management plan to try to slow the progression of this disease and keep your pet as comfortable and active as possible for as long as possible.

Preventing arthritis in cats and dogs

Arthritis prevention is the best proactive course of action to ensure your pet has a good quality of life during its golden years. Consult a veterinarian if your pet is entering an advanced age or is overweight. Obesity can lead to arthritis. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best diet for your fur baby.

How to alleviate arthritis symptoms

Arthritis is a progressive condition that has no cure, but there are treatments and ways we can ensure our pets are more comfortable. The secondary goal of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease. Weight reduction will be one of the initial treatments for arthritic pets who are overweight. Medications and proper diet plans can also assist in slowing down symptoms. Therapeutic exercise may be a recourse your veterinarian recommends. Many over-the-counter and human arthritis medications and anti-inflammatories can do more harm than good, however, so always consult a vet before giving your pet any medications or supplements.

How the weather affects arthritis during the winter

During the winter, we bundle up and try to stay as cozy as possible, especially those of us who live in regions that reach freezing temperatures. It's our responsibility to protect our pets during cold weather too. Pets with arthritis tend to be more stiff and probably feel more pain when it’s cold. Sleeping somewhere warm or even having a heated bed has been shown to benefit arthritic senior pets. There are other steps you can take to make sure your pet is warm this winter as well.

If you have a canine companion, consider investing in a winter dog coat for them. This is more likely to be helpful for dogs with sparse hair. Most healthy dogs with a regular coat of fur - even if it’s short - don’t need a coat for a short trip outside for a walk or to relieve themselves. Even an arthritic pet will be fine without a coat for short trips outside. If your dog shivers and wants you to pick them up or go back inside, those are signs that they’re cold. If your dog is happy to go out and runs and plays eagerly, then you don’t have to worry that they’re uncomfortable. Coats provide only a little bit of insulation, however, so if your dog is particularly sensitive to the cold, keep their outside time limited and supervised.

Dog boots can help when extreme cold and harsh ice-melting chemicals cannot be avoided. Sometimes the snow balls up and gets stuck in the fur between the toes, and boots can help with this as well. Dogs may not be the biggest fans of wearing boots, so it’s smart to teach your dog to wear them before you need them. Once you're indoors, remove the dog shoes and make sure your dog's paws are dry. Towel dry your dog if its body is damp from the snow. Prevent falls or slips by drying up any wet areas at the entrances. Falls can be agonizing for cats and dogs suffering from arthritis.

Keep an eye on the weather reports and if extreme cold advisories are issued, limit your pets’ time outside. Coats and booties don’t provide any protection against frostbite on vulnerable body parts like the tips of the ears.

Just as you winterize your home, winterize your pet's sleeping space. Make sure your pet’s bedding stays dry and clean. Heated beds are great not only for outdoor pets, but also for indoor pets with arthritis.

While we may have a tendency to plump up a bit during winter, you will want to maintain a vet-approved diet if your pet has osteoarthritis.

Here's a checklist of topics to cover with your vet as you prepare for the cold winter months:

  • Are adjustments to your parasite control plan necessary?
  • Is my pet overweight or obese?
  • What’s the best way to slow the progression of my pet’s arthritis?
  • How can I relieve my pet’s arthritis pain?
  • Would a therapeutic or heated bed benefit my pet?
  • What kind of exercise does my pet need this winter?
  • Can my dog stay outside all winter?
  • How warm do I need to keep it in my house for my pets to be comfortable?

With pet telehealth, you can consult your online veterinarian from the comfort of your home. And where allowed by law, telehealth makes ordering prescriptions easy and accessible. You can effortlessly schedule follow-up appointments and access your cat or dog's medical history online. A bonus about telehealth is that your vet can see your pet's home environment, advise you on safety precautions, give product approvals, and see how your pet behaves in their familiar environment. Book your virtual vet appointment at a time convenient for you whenever you have questions about your pet’s health.