Many people experience arthritis as they age. Pets may as well. My husband and I recently learned our 11-year-old cat Bailey has severe arthritis in her hips and spine. We were shocked. She showed no signs of distress. We had taken her to the vet concerned about possible diabetes due to weight gain and other issues. Her blood work came back normal so the vet did X-rays, which revealed something we weren’t expecting: osteoarthritis. Bailey is now on a regiment of specialty food with fish oil and glucosamine and injections of Adequan, which helps the joint fluid slow the damage and maintain the cartilage she possesses.
Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the cartilage within the joint is worn away. This leads to inflammation, pain, and decreased quality of life. How do pets become arthritic? Some believe genetics. Bailey comes from feral parents, so we know nothing about them. Injury or trauma can lead to the degenerative disease and obesity can contribute to worsening the condition. Reduced mobility and activity as well as reduced frequency in grooming are some of the signs of arthritis. Additionally, occasional lameness or stiffness of gait may be noticed in a cat or dog experiencing the condition.
Arthritis in dogs is more well-known and studied. Until recently, the condition in cats was not commonly diagnosed or treated. Cats tend to hide signs of pain, and therefore, like us, many kitty caregivers don’t recognize or consider this disease in their furry friends. X-rays, like those provided by our vet, helps diagnose arthritis in a cat or dog, but in particular with a cat that tolerates a great deal of pain, like Bailey.
According to the website CatsWithArthritis.com, three in ten cats suffer from arthritis and only seven percent are treated for the condition. Older cats are more prone to the disease. Some studies show as many as 90% of cats 12 and older have arthritis.
Although one may be tempted to give over the counter anti-inflammatory medication to pets, DON’T! especially to cats: aspirin and acetaminophen can be deadly. Your vet can prescribe the right type of drugs to help your kitty. If you have a dog with arthritis, before giving it any human medication, consult your vet as to what dogs can tolerate without causing major harm or death.
There are many great websites about arthritis in pets, including the following:
However, the best advice on diagnosis and treatment will come from your veterinarian. Radiographs are becoming more common as a baseline health exam for pets. Now that I’m the owner of three senior pets, I recognize the advantage of doing such work, as well as blood tests, when my animals are younger. This recent diagnosis for Bailey came as a great shock, and though my husband and I are taking positive steps to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible, I wish we’d known this was coming by having the x-rays done a few years ago. Most animals are considered seniors when they’re 10; we would have been wise to have done x-rays before that age. We have Bailey’s sister, too; we recently had radiographs done on her, and learned she, too, has arthritis, just not as badly. As a precaution, Murphy will also be fed the same prescription food and receive the injections.
Education is key to helping our furry companions; sadly, sometimes that edification comes with unexpected news.
When our blind dog Sage became lost in a Wyoming forest in 2003, my husband and I called on friends and family as well as strangers to help locate her. At that time, even cell phones were fairly new and there wasn’t much cell service in the area where she became lost. We went door-to-door and campground-to-campground throughout the timbered landscape, talking with people and hanging up posters. Although my husband had a cell phone, it did little good camping in the backwoods, so our posters and our face-to-face meetings provided a house phone number of a friend living in town. Because people came to our aid, we were able to bring our lost girl home and, thankfully, safe and sound.
Not everyone who loses a pet, particularly in the woods, is so fortunate. But now, 13 years later, there are many additional avenues by which a lost pet can return home safely, and that includes digital and other electronic means.
Facebook is a great way to enlist the help of a community when a pet goes missing. In my community of Casper, Wyoming, there are at least three Facebook pages for lost and found pets: Casper Pets LostNFound (https://www.facebook.com/groups/417171321683716/), Casper/Wyoming Missing Canines (https://www.facebook.com/wyomissingcanine/?fref=ts) and Wyoming Missing Canines (https://www.facebook.com/groups/wymissingK9s/) Administrators of these pages help spread the word about dogs, cats, even birds that are lost or those strays which have been found, and people who visit these sites are also very good about sharing when an animal has gone missing or one is found by a Good Samaritan. Numerous pets have been reunited with their worried owners because of these digital villages of caring people.
Microchipping a pet also has its positive advantages. HomeAgain is the company we have used (https://public.homeagain.com/) but there are others. At times I receive an email notifying about a lost pet in our community with a HomeAgain chip. Pet owners need to be responsible and keep the chip up-to-date with their latest address and phone number and renew the chip when the time comes. It does the Casper animal sheltering organizations no good to receive a lost pet with a microchip with outdated contact information or a chip that is no longer registered.
A fairly new technology are apps for SmartPhones that can help track pets, including ones made by Garmin and Tractive. Using satellite and GPS, lost pets can be found more readily using such an application. Check out a review of the various products at http://pet-tracking-devices-review.toptenreviews.com to learn more about this technology and see if it might be helpful for you and your pet as well as learn about the various products available.
Because we have property in a forested area with little to no cell phone service, the satellite GPS doesn’t do us much good. But, my husband learned of a product that doesn’t rely on cell phones; instead, the Marco Polo is similar to a tracking device used by wildlife biologists to locate wildlife species being researched. A tracking component attaches to the pet’s collar and a wand device then picks up the signal, letting an owner know if the pet is close by or far away (see http://eurekaproducts.com/). Because Mary, our springer/cocker mix, is like Sage in that she gets on a scent of a squirrel or deer and could disappear in a heartbeat, we keep the device on Mary’s collar when we’re visiting our cabin site and when we travel out of town.
In addition to traditional identification tags, some of these systems can come in handy to help pets and their owners reunite. From Facebook communities and Good Samaritans to tracking devices and microchips, it can take a village to bring a lost pet home. Thankfully, there are still concerned and caring people who help reunite animals with their owners.
August has arrived. We are still in the heat of summer when storms and wildfires explode in an instant. Floods, fires, tornadoes – all can spell disaster for people and pets. During Hurricane Katrina many pet owners stayed behind because Red Cross shelters don’t allow animals, and when people stayed, both humans and animals died. Although some organizations have since helped communities more actively prepare for handling pets during a natural disaster (see the American Kennel Club Reunite Mobile Trailer Disaster Program at http://www.akcreunite.org/relief/), pet owners should also prepare by creating an Evac-Pack.
An Evac-Pack is like a go-bag for your pet, helping you as a pet owner be prepared to care for your pet during a natural disaster. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), here are things pet parents should include in their pet’s Evac-Pack:
The ASPCA has a mobile app that can be helpful, showing pet owners what to do in case of a natural disaster/emergency. The app also allows pet parents to store vital medical records and provides information on making life-saving decisions during natural disasters. This free app can help pet owners in several other ways such as:
Learn more about preparing for a natural disaster if you have pets, including special considerations for livestock, birds, and reptiles, at http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/disaster-preparedness. Other helpful websites include: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/animal_rescue/tips/pet_disaster_preparedness_kit.html?credit=web_id354243830, http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/pet_first_aid_kit.html and http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m3640126_PetSafety.pdf.
Remember that Red Cross shelters don’t allow pets (they do allow service animals); therefore, plan ahead where your pet will stay if you have to be away from your home for an extended period of time. Pet-friendly hotels, boarding and veterinary clinics, and sometimes local animal shelters and pet rescue organizations can be helpful.
Plan ahead before an emergency strikes with where to go and what to take – you and your pet will ride the wave of a natural disaster better for that preparation.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.