As the cold Melbourne winter mornings set in, Dr Mitry takes a look at the preventative steps you can take to help diagnose and manage arthritis in our furry friends.
And this July at Clyde Vet, it’s “Arthritis Month” – we are making it easy for you to get any worrying symptoms seen to for complete peace of mind with a little less burden on your wallet.
Book before July 31 and save.
CLICK HERE to book online for an additional 10% off your consultation fee
or phone Clyde Vet direct on 9052 3200.
Our pets aren’t always the best communicators. Any sign that an animal is in pain can be interpreted as a sign of weakness by a competitor, so our furry companions try naturally to avoid displaying any outward pain symptoms. Cats are particularly skilled at hiding their pain.
But research shows that 80% of dogs experience some form of arthritis by eight years of age and a startling 20% show some symptoms at just one year, and the numbers are not radically different for cats. There’s no question that arthritis is one of the most under-diagnosed of veterinary conditions.
Arthritis can affect one or more joints anywhere in your pet’s body, but the most common joints affected in dogs and cats are the hips, knees, shoulders and elbows. Most of these joints depend on a layer of cartilage acting as a cushioned surface so the adjoining bones can move freely. This movement is assisted by the lubrication provided by synovial fluid in joints.
With arthritis the cartilage deteriorates and the synovial fluid loses its lubricating properties so that movement of the bones causes friction in the joint which registers as pain, and that pain will worsen as the joint becomes more aggravated.
Arthritis is an incurable condition, but the worst symptoms can be managed to give your pet a relatively pain-free old age, and the earlier the condition is identified the better the prospects for effective management.
Fortunately nobody knows them as well as their owner, and there are several obvious signs to watch out for as your pet ages. If your dog or cat is showing any of these possible symptoms of arthritis over a persistent time frame, we recommend seeing your vet as early as possible for a full diagnosis.
Dog owners can scroll down to the end of this article for an interactive online quiz that you can take to help assess the risk of osteoarthritis in your dog.
As another Melbourne winter intensifies, the mornings are colder, and the potential for any flare up in your dog or cat’s arthritis is heightened. You can help out by making sure their bedding is warm and clean and well insulated from the cold floor. Some other things you can do to help manage the condition include;
Most importantly, for dogs or cats with severe arthritis, you should consider what changes you can make to their home environment to reduce the stress on ageing joints – this could include re-locating their food and water bowls, or providing a ramp to help them access their bedding.
By Dr Irene Mitry
Head Veterinarian – Clyde Veterinary Hospital
Unless you happen to own a Sphinx cat, the one common fact that ALL pet owners need to contend with is that your beloved companion is quite noticeably VERY FURRY.
This is great when it’s time for cuddles and pats, but we all know that fur presents its own unique problems. Their fur can tend to trap odours, house parasites and most importantly, it can obscure any emerging health conditions on your pet’s skin.
Most skin conditions are completely benign, and only represent a cosmetic threat to your pet’s well-being. But the MOST SERIOUS such conditions are very serious indeed – to the point of being life-threatening if not seen to immediately.
For this reason, it is vital for your dog or cat’s well-being that you check them regularly for any emerging issues and see your vet urgently if you find anything of concern.
That’s why at Clyde Veterinary Hospital, we strongly recommend that pet owners take just five minutes a month to perform a regular MONTHLY EXAM of their animal’s skin as part of an optimal preventative care regime, and we’ve put together this month’s blog in order to walk you step by step through the best way to do this.
And remember all June 2019 at Clyde Vet is ‘Lumps & Bumps Month’ – that means we are offering FREE fine needle aspiration biopsies with all standard bookings (regular consultation fee applies).
That’s $45 worth of FREE peace of mind on anything suspicious if you book before June 30. CLICK HERE to book online, or phone the clinic direct on (03) 9052 3200.
One of the hardest aspects of the whole exercise is actually making sure that you build this systemically into their regular care regime.
If your pet is already taking some form of monthly medication, the most obvious solution is to make sure that you routinely perform this check immediately after giving them their medication each month.
One of the great things about this check is that because of the physical attention they get, it’s one of the few veterinary exams that your dog or cat will actually come to look forward to – and if they hate their medication, this can even be a little reward for their putting up with the tablet!
If you don’t have a regular monthly routine that a skin check can become a part of, we recommend building a little reminder into your existing calendar system – fortunately most electronic systems are great for setting a regularly scheduled reminder like this. Here’s a great list of some of the most popular digital calendar apps currently on the market for this purpose.
There is no right or wrong way to perform a lumps and bumps examination, but it is important that you systematise the check in order to make sure you’re routinely checking the entire animal.
Cancers in particular can develop in some of the harder to reach areas between joints associated with the lymphatic system.
The two key elements that make up the check are really the “technique” you use to perform it, and the “route” you map out along the animal.
In terms of the technique, it’s important to note that simply running your hands along the surface of their fur is insufficient to identify anything but the largest or most obvious problems in dogs and cats.
The point here is that this is a SKIN CHECK, and you need to make physical contact with or otherwise inspect the animal’s actual skin to perform the check effectively.
Owners will need to get comfortable with stroking their fur AGAINST its natural “grain”, so brushing BACKWARDS towards the animal’s head, rather than their tail with your fingers is the most critical aspect.
It will be much easier for short haired breeds, but you should try as best as possible to get a look at the actual skin surface, where you are looking for any unusual discolouration as well as any obvious raised lumps or disturbances of the skin.
If you identify anything unusual, make a note of EXACTLY where on your animal you found the lump or bump, and if possible take a photo of it on your phone. This will allow you to easily show the vet the area of concern and allow you to compare any changes in colour or condition of the lump.
And while it’s not technically part of a lumps and bumps check – you should make a note if you spot any fleas, ticks or other parasites in the fur or on the skin in the process, as your vet should be informed of this also at your next veterinary checkup.
We recommend starting your pet’s skin check with your dog or cat standing upright, with larger animals on the floor and smaller animals on a bench if possible.
You should begin the skin check at your pet’s head, remembering that their fur is shortest here so this region is particularly prone to skin cancers. Growths can be lurking absolutely anywhere.
Check their head carefully all over – for dogs remember to check the entire muzzle, look in their nostrils. around eyes, and in and around their mouth, and don’t forget to lift the earn on floppy haired breeds and have a good inspect of the under ear surface and in the ear.
Once you’re sure you’ve covered your pet’s whole head, inspecting as much of the skin as possible, start working your way along their back to their tail, repeating the process, patting them constantly “against” the natural grain of their fur to raise it up and expose the skin before moving progressively along to the next section.
Make sure you inspect the whole tail – this is one part of the exam most pets are less than fond of, but it’s important to try and hold the tail as still as possible to allow you to at least inspect its length by touch.
You will then need to examine their underside, best done by rolling them fully on their back, and similarly inspecting their tummy fur. Pay special attention to their joints – lumps can often grow in these difficult to detect locations, and make sure you run your hands fully along all their limbs.
Conclude the exam by a close examination of the pads of all four paws, where in addition to lumps and bumps, burrs and other foreign objects can cause problems.
Firstly, the most important thing is that you DON’T PANIC. The vast majority of lumps found on dogs or dogs turn out to be completely benign – even some quite nasty looking one. If you come across any of the following common types of lump, simply note and record the location and arrange to see your vet at the earliest possible opportunity.
Fatty Tumours – you may notice these soft, fatty lumps appearing on your pet, and largening and sagging with age. They tend to be more common in obese animals. Not all tumours are serious, but they should all be seen to.
Melanoma: a pigmented tumour which most frequency occurs on areas of the animal that are exposed to sunlight. Often initially circular, they may grow into a more blotchy shape and discolour with time. Melanomas are malignant and should be seen to by a vet as soon as identified.
Mast Cell Tumour – comprising of up to 25% of all tumours. They’re most common in dogs of middle and older age. Mast cell tumours can look like many other tumours, but they are actually a fast-growing form of cancer, so it’s vital to have them diagnosed accurately and quickly by a vet.
Sebaceous Cysts – these look like, basically are, and are of no more concern than the common pimple.
Warts – largely a cosmetic issue, you may notice these hard, dark circular areas of skin appear particularly around the animal’s mouth. They are nothing to be concerned with unless its annoying your pet or they are scratching at it.
Abscesses – the buildup of pus under the skin, usually associated with a wound to the pet, and usually painful or tender to the animal.
Hives – a rash of round, red weals on the skin that itch and swell. They are generally caused by a reaction of the skin to allergens such as bee stings. They sometimes they require treatment with steroids or antihistamines.
As you can see, not all lumps and bumps on your pet are equally serious. For complete peace of mind, you should have anything unusual seen to by your vet, but the issue is most pressing if the lump exhibits one or more of the following features which may indicate the presence of a cancerous growth:
Knowing the answers to these questions before you take your animal to the vet will help them diagnose your dog’s “lump” quicker
I’m often asked exactly when a dog or cat can be officially considered a ‘senior’ animal – but the fact is it’s impossible to give a blanket answer to that question – you’re asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’
All animals ‘age’ differently and at different rates for a variety of reasons, some related to environment, some to lifestyle, some to size, some to species and genetics. So the word ‘senior’ is really only useful in this sense if we take it to mean ‘the age at which the animal’s health needs have become more acute’.
On average this will begin at around seven years of age in dogs and cats, but rather than worrying about a specific number, you really just need to know that the older they get, the more important it becomes to keep a stronger preventative eye on the sort of health problems that naturally emerge in animals as they age.
So, I thought it would be useful to have a quick run through the basic things you can do to spot, avoid and manage health and well-being issues in elderly dogs and cats (although the principles I’m talking about generally apply to any companion animal).
You’ll note a common thread in many of the conditions I discuss below is that early detection and diagnosis is almost always key to making sure that the severity of non-preventable ageing issues is minimised so your dog or cat can continue to enjoy their senior years and you keep them happy and healthy by your side as long as possible.
Once your pet starts showing signs of any of the following chronic ageing issues, we strongly recommend following a regime of veterinary checkups every six months.
As your dog or cat ages, you may find their enthusiasm for exercise declines, which can result in a tendency to develop obesity, diabetes, heart and even toenail and claw problems.
I recommend ensuring that your senior dog continues to get regular routine exercise, but in many cases, you will probably want to reduce the intensity of walks or play sessions as your dog ages.
For indoor cats in particular, exercise can be difficult to facilitate as they age. I recommend that you schedule regular routine play sessions with your cat’s favourite toys – chase toys are often the best for giving your senior cat a good workout.
Encouraging your outdoor cat to continue to enjoy their outdoor time is important, but in many cases, their urge to range so far from home will reduce as they age. Keep giving your cat outdoor time, and let them climb and range as far as they feel comfortable. They will be the best judge of their own limits. They might also start to feel more comfortable indoors as they start to feel anxious about not being able to mark/defend their territory.
You will be in the habit of regularly putting the same amount of food in your pet’s bowl every day, and your dog or cat will be expecting that same amount too! But as their activity levels decline with age and they are burning fewer calories, their appetite doesn’t necessarily decline at the same rate, which can quickly lead to complications from obesity – amongst the most serious of which is diabetes, which is potentially life threatening.
Managing your elderly pet’s diet becomes more important as they age – if you’re in the habit of giving them extra scraps or treats outside their regular feeding times, it can be a good idea to wind this back a little.
The easiest way to weigh your dog or cat is to pick them up in your arms if possible, weigh both yourself and your fur baby on a set of bathroom scales together, then weigh yourself and subtract your own weight. Doing this regularly can help identify any obesity problems – although weighing larger dogs can be more of a challenge, in most cases you will be able to spot your dog or cat putting on weight just by looking at them. Either way, regular vet checks mean your vet will be able to spot changes in your pet that might not be obvious changes to you, as you see them every day.
Your pet dog or cat will naturally start to range less as they age – making them less prone to develop communicable diseases and pick up parasites. But that doesn’t mean you can rest easy, because their ability to resist and recover from any such diseases also declines markedly as their elderly immune system means their ability to fight off any infection is reduced.
Make sure that you maintain your vet’s recommended programmes for anti-worm, flea and heartworm in particular.
As your ageing dog or cat starts to exercise less, they naturally wear their claws and toenails down less and less. Cats will generally self manage the issue – they trim their claws through sharpening, but dog toenails in particular can start to grow excessively long. If you feel comfortable trimming your dog’s nails, you should do so regularly, very carefully, just a small amount at a time – otherwise regular veterinary checkups can keep the issue manageable.
Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of joint pain and stiffness in dogs and cats, and they will tend to experience symptoms related to this more often in the colder months. So, as winter approaches, it’s a good idea to have your pet checked for any developing issues because early identification before the condition becomes serious can be critical to managing it effectively without too much pain to your furry friends in their final years.
Keep an eye out for any difficulty or discomfort your dog or cat may have in getting up or down from a sitting or lying position, and see your vet immediately if you see any sudden deterioration. You should also notice that your cat is far less inclined to jumping than before – you may notice them meowing for assistance in situations they were previously comfortable with, or even injuring themselves mis-judging their jump.
It’s a good idea to make sure you provide your elderly pets with good comfortable, soft bedding – particularly in the winter months, and watch out for any obesity issues which can further strain ageing joints, while maintaining a regular, reduced intensity exercise regimen.
Poor diet can be a major contributing factor in the development of osteoarthritis, so it’s important to ensure your pets are getting an adequate, regular and nutrient-rich diet. A number of special formula foods are available, formulated to meet the needs of senior animals and their bone health in particular. Ask your vet about whether this would be appropriate if you have any concerns.
Cancer is a common concern for all elderly animals – and they become increasingly prone to developing unusual ‘lumps and bumps’ on their bodies as they age. Fortunately not all of these are cancerous, but you should conduct regular “hands on” inspections of your senior dog or cat from ‘tip to tail’ (this is one medical examination your pets tend to enjoy!) If you identify any new or unusual lumps during the inspection, you should contact your veterinarian immediately to have it diagnosed and treated as early as possible, just in case it does prove to be something serious.
From a preventative perspective, as with humans there’s not a lot that pet owners can do to avoid the natural degeneration of their hearing and eyesight – other than avoiding aggravating factors like exposure to excessive amounts of loud noise. Consistently cleaning senior animals’ ears can help reduce the risk of any ear infection, which can be helpful as even mild infections can often compound your dog or cat’s natural rate of hearing loss.
It’s important that any potential hearing or eyesight issues in your dog or cat are identified as soon as they start developing so that a proper management plan can be put in place to ease the confusion and discomfort for your pets that can arise from degeneration in these vital faculties. This is one reason why we recommend senior dogs and cats over seven years of age receive regular, specialised and more frequent veterinary checkups than when they were younger.
Keep an eye out for signs of cloudiness in your dog or cat’s eyes as a sign that they may be developing cataract disease, as well as any signs they appear wobbly on their feet, start bumping into objects, or appear confused in familiar surroundings. Hearing loss can also cause them to appear occasionally confused, however the most obvious symptoms will be an apparent failure to hear or respond to commands from a distance or from the next room.
Dementia often accompanies the ageing process in all animals – usually it is relatively mild and easily manageable, but in some cases the symptoms are severe. Like osteoarthritis, there is no cure for dementia in pets, but it can often be helped with certain specially formulated foods and medications.
If you notice that your senior animal is becoming confused in familiar surroundings, seems ‘vacant’ or significantly less responsive to commands than usual, or they appear to be making unusual vocal sounds to themselves or for no reason, these are often signs of the onset of dementia. If you observe any of these symptoms, you should contact your vet immediately, in order to put an effective management plan in place as soon as possible.
Heart health naturally declines in all animals with age. Making sure they are maintaining an adequately nutritious but not excessive diet is important for avoiding obesity, which is a major contributing factor in the development of many heart conditions.
Heart conditions can be notoriously difficult to detect in dogs and cats. Keep an eye out for the most common symptoms – coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, loss of consciousness or unexplained vomiting in your senior pet, and see your vet immediately if you have any concerns.
Even though senior animals may have less exposure to the sort of outdoor areas where they are likely to acquire heartworm, we strongly recommend maintaining your pet’s heartworm protection regime into their senior years, ask your vet what’s most appropriate for them, based your animal’s unique circumstances.
Elderly animals are increasingly more prone to develop gastrointestinal issues. Keep an eye out for any persistent vomiting or diahorrea in your senior dog or cat, which can be a sign of serious gastrointestinal problems. Nutrition and diet are obvious contributing factors, and many senior animals can benefit from switching to specially formulated age-appropriate foods.
If you notice any white or discoloured flecks in your pet’s stool, these can also be a sign that worms are present. It’s important to maintain your elderly pet’s worming regime, even though they are less likely to be exposed to risk factors as they roam less.
Older animals can sometimes experience toilet ‘accidents’ as the muscles controlling their bladders weaken, but incontinence can also be a sign of a bigger problem like a urinary tract infection. Accidents can also be an indicator of possible dementia or arthiritis.
If you see any of these signs in your senior pet, it is best to talk to your vet as soon as possible to get a clearer diagnosis of the issue.
Aging kidneys tend to lose their function as dogs and cats get older, and can be tricky to spot without a formal blood test by your vet. While chronic kidney failure can’t be cured, it can be managed with proper treatment, significantly reducing the effects, and improving your pet’s welfare in their final years. The correct diet can also assist in the management of any kidney issues.
Thyroid disease and/or high blood pressure are other common causes of renal failure whose risks also increase with age.
Excessive drinking or increased urination are two key symptoms to watch for – but the best way of ensuring any problems are diagnosed in a timely way is through regular veterinary checkups. At Clyde vet, we run an early kidney failure test to ensure any emerging kidney issues are quickly diagnosed and treated.
There are of course a million other little ways that you can give your dog or cat the preventative care regime they deserve – but following these twelve broad principles (none of which are hard work – it’s really just a matter of paying them a small amount of regular special attention) will ensure you’re across all the major issues that could possibly arise.
Consider after all the love and care they’ve given you down the years, that little bit of extra work is the least you can do. The reward is they’ll be happy and healthy by your side for many years to come.