Joint disease is common in older dogs, perhaps more so in larger breeds but it is also seen in smaller dogs & often under recognised in cats. It is a degenerative condition. Sometimes if a primary problem is identified then a surgical treatment may reduce progression (eg cruciate/ patella surgery, hip replacement) frequently it is not obvious until an animal is older & quite significantly affected. We would very much encourage people thinking of getting a large breed dog to buy one from a breeder where the parents have been screened for hip and elbow problems as always prevention is better than treatment.
It is a progressive condition and although there are things we can do in terms of analgesia and anti inflamatories there are things that you can do to reduce progression and help your pet cope.
The most valuable thing that you can do to help a pet with arthritis is to ensure that they are not overweight. The more that affected joints are overloaded the more rapidly they will degenerate. There are alot of studies in labradors (who are prone to elbow, hip & stifle arthritis) to show slower progression and greater longevity & better quality of life in leaner dogs.
We are often asked about supplements & we know many owners try them. They are certainly heavily marketed. However there is liltle evidence that they are effective & in a waxing & waning condition it is very difficult to assess wether they cause any improvement. There is ALOT more evidence for the benefit of weight control then there is for any supplements
It is important to maintain activity in these dogs to aid weight control but also for their quality of life but this should be steady walking and care should be taken to avoid games that encourage jumping and twisting as this could exacerbate problems and lead to injury. When exercise has to be restricted in pets having a flare up or when recovering from injury you can still give your dog fun by using sniffing games and chew toys. We do refer dogs for hydrotherapy when appropriate. Mild uphill slopes can help maintain hindleg strength and mild downhill slopes can help with balance. Uneven floor surfaces(soft sand, gravel) can be difficult to walk on & so should be avoided.
There is quite a bit you can do to help your arthritic pet by making some easy changes in your house.
HOW SLIPPY ARE YOUR FLOORS? laminate floors can be difficult for an arthritic pet. Is it safe for you to run around wearing socks? If not, it will be tricky for your pet so try some rugs & mats. Trimming hair between pads and keeping nails clipped may also help.
ARE THERE STEPS IN/OUT OF HOUSE/ If these are proving a problem then consider restricting access by using baby gates or provide a ramp for a dog to get in & out of a building. Carpeted steps may be easier. Harnesses & slings may help manouvring dogs up & down steps. Ramps can also be useful for getting large dogs in & out of cars.
ARE WALKWAYS FREE OF CLUTTER? This makes then hard to negotiate
CAN YOUR DOG GET IN/OUT OF BED EASILY? Adjust its position so that it is. Larger beds may be easier. Avoid a bed that is too squishy - it may look more comfortable but may be harder to stand up in. Cut down memory foam matress toppers work well. Covers shouldn't be too loose & the bed doesn't want to be full of toys. Non slip mats next to the bed can help.
ACCESS TO SOFA. If your pet is allowed on the furniture then this can be an issue especially for arthritic cats - you can use small stools to make a stepped route up.
IS YOUR PET COFORTABLE STANDING TO EAT & DRINK? If not then consider raised bowls - you can always use a small stool or some bricks. In older cats consider litter tray design. If you cat has stopped using the tray & started using the carpet this can be the first sign of mobility problems and may often be solved by using a shallower tray.
So there's quite a bit that can be done to help older pets living with arthritis. There's a facebook page run by Canine Arthritis Management that you may find useful.