Autumn is here, bringing with it Easter, Anzac Day … and aching joints for those with arthritis. It is commonly accepted that cold and clammy weather can cause creaky joints to complain. But how and why does the autumn weather affect arthritis?
First things first … what is arthritis?
The term arthritis come from Latin and means joint (“arthr”) inflammation (“itis”). While there are many types of joint inflammation, arthritis in animals most commonly refers to the inflammation associated with degenerative joint disease. Degenerative joint disease is basically joint damage caused by wear and tear. It can be seen in young animals with developmental joint disease (joints that did not grow to fit together perfectly); in any animal after injury; in overweight animals due to increased joint stress; as well as in older animals. Arthritis affects not only the joint cartilage, but also the joint fluid, bone, and connective tissues. The inflammation causes damage to all these structures, and the end result is pain and disability.
How common is arthritis?
Really common. Studies have found that arthritis affects around 20% of dogs and cats who are over a year old; 80% of dogs over 8 years old; and 90% of cats who are over 10 years old. So, if your pet is more than a few years old … chances are that they have some arthritis.
Why does the weather affect arthritis?
This is still under investigation, but there are a few of possible mechanisms:
- Cold weather is often associated with a drop in air pressure, and lower air pressure may mean the tissues in (already swollen) arthritic joints expand further, causing more pain.
- Lower temperatures can make joint fluid thicker and more sludgey, and therefore make joints stiffer and more painful. Cold weather can also heighten pain sensitivity, slow blood circulation and cause muscle spasms.
- Finally, animals (and people) are often less active when the weather is cold and wet, and a lack of physical activity is known to worsen joint pain and stiffness.
How can you tell if your pet has arthritis?
The most common symptoms of arthritis in dogs are lameness, stiffness when getting up/down, and a reluctance to jump or navigate stairs. The symptoms are often worse after a period of rest and improve with activity (as your dog ‘warms up’). Cats are less likely to show lameness, but they may stop jumping and climbing. Often cats are simply less active, or they may show decreased grooming, irritability when being handled, or a change in toileting habits.
How can you help your pet cope with arthritis and cold weather?
There are many simple things you can do to help your pet cope with arthritis. Any excess weight increases joint stress and therefore pain, so helping your pet achieve and maintain a healthy body condition makes a huge difference (more than medication even). There are specially formulated weight-loss/ mobility diets available that can help. Regular low impact activities are also beneficial for both weight management and maintaining joint mobility and muscle mass. Other helpful measures include making sure the flooring is non-slip (e.g. placing mats on slippery floors) and providing ramps or shallow steps to make moving between levels easier. When it comes to autumn and winter it is important to keep your pet nice and warm- keep them indoors overnight; provide warm, soft bedding; use animal safe heat discs or warming pads; and use doggy coats or jackets when going for walks etc.
How can your vet assist in managing arthritis?
Your veterinarian can provide a range of different treatments to help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. This may include guidance on the best joint supplements; a course of injectable cartilage protectants; medication with oral anti-inflammatories or pain killers; and therapies such as physiotherapy, laser treatments, and acupuncture.
Disclaimer: The information and advice in this post is general in nature. It is not intended as a substitute for tailored health care advice from your regular veterinarian.