Winter might bring many positives – like Netflix marathons in bed and an excuse to have just one more mug of hot chocolate – but it can also mean lots of discomfort for our fur babies

Cold weather can exacerbate existing ailments, such as arthritis and, while we may be able to verbalise our pain, unfortunately our pets can’t.

When it comes to cats, it’s especially difficult for pet parents to acknowledge their pain as they’re absolute masters of disguise – a survival instinct. “Caused by the wear and tear of cartilage and bone of the joints, osteo-arthritis, if not managed properly, can become extremely painful and debilitating,” says Dr. Fyvie, Hill’s Pet Nutrition’s veterinary advisor.

He explains that pets are more likely to develop arthritis as they age, but at times it can occur in younger pets as a secondary ailment. This could be due to an inherited disease such as hip or elbow dysplasia, or trauma to cartilage and ligaments.

According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) arthritis in pets is not a single ‘type’ of problem and presents differently in the growing, versus the middle-aged, versus the older cat or dog. Therefore, arthritis presenting at the different life stages requires a unique approach for optimal care. For example, in a growing dog surgical intervention may be the first line of treatment in an effort to limit the disease progression and the likelihood of pain in the future, whereas an older cat, for example, may require pain management and dietary changes.

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Arthritic cats hide their discomfort very well, so signs pet parents should look out for are:

1. Sleeping all day

Contrary to popular belief this isn’t normal. It’s called ‘slowing down,’ and is almost always pain related

2. Look out for a scruffier coat – especially around the tail area – as they struggle to groom

3. Battling or reluctant to jump

4. Have problems negotiating a high sided cat litter box”

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Dr. Fyvie says the good news is that there are plenty of things pet parents can do to reduce arthritis pain and improve their pet’s quality of life:

Weight management

Carrying a little extra weight can become a significant load on your pet’s joints and can increase the inflammation, pain, and stress in an already arthritic pet. Maintaining optimum weight should be a priority.

If your pet’s weight is a concern, make an appointment with your vet. Your vet will objectively assess their weight, recommend nutritional and lifestyle changes if necessary, and prescribe pain relief or anti-inflammatory medication, as required.

Regular exercise

It’s harder for all of us to get up and moving in winter; it’s just so cold. However, it’s important to maintain regular gentle exercise with our pets to keep their joints healthy and moving. A brisk walk with your dog when the winter sun is high, or a play session with your cat and an empty toilet roll will do wonders for everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing and is critical in the management of arthritis.

Comfortable bedding

Make sure your pet has a warm and sheltered area that is out of the cold, wet and wind. Winter nights make joint pain worse, and a snug comfortable bed with extra blankets will allow your pet to relax while they’re lying down and recuperating. Just make sure your pet’s bed isn’t on a high level or is difficult to get in and out of, as this can put added pressure on their joints.

Avoid stairs

For really arthritic pets, minimising access to stairs, where possible, can reduce unnecessary trauma. If stairs are unavoidable you may have to carry small pets up and down or use ramps around the house, if space allows. If jumping in and out of the car proves problematic for your larger dog, then consider a portable ramp to make this transition easier. For cats specifically, lower their food, water bowls and litter trays for easy access or, if this isn’t possible, ensure there is a halfway jump to get up to them.

Cat keeping warm in winter. Image supplied by author

Anti-inflammatory medication

Be sure to consult your vet for the correct pet medication – cats especially do not tolerate human medicines, which can be fatal.

Nutrition

The food your pet eats plays an important role in their overall health and well-being. For accurate diagnosis and treatment options, always consult your veterinarian and ask them to recommend the best food for your pet’s arthritis and joint health.

“Ideally, but unfortunately not in all cases, the management of arthritis should be a gentle one, involving a combination of the above approaches to optimise your pet’s comfort. The most important thing to remember though is to keep a close eye on your pet and if you notice any changes in their behaviour, make an appointment with your vet. Prevention is always better than cure,” Dr. Fyvie concludes.

For more information visit the Hill’s website