Pets, especially cats, are masters at hiding signs of illness. Although pain routinely afflicts older pets, many pet owners don’t pick up on the signs, chalking up pain signals to old age and believing their elderly pet is simply slowing down. 

Take a look at these two examples of painful pets. While they may be aging, they are also suffering from osteoarthritis, a common ailment of older pets.

Reina’s story

Reina is gorgeous feline of the Persian persuasion, with long, flowing fur that requires extensive grooming to prevent mats. Normally a friendly, personable cat, Reina has been avoiding her family lately, shunning petting and grooming alike, hissing at any human touch. She’s also been giving her litter box a wide berth.

Reina has always been a neat freak, so these issues worried her family. Then, over the course of a weekend, Reina went downhill quickly, turning her nose up at her favorite treats and hiding under the bed. Not wanting to wait till Monday to see her regular veterinarian, Reina’s family rushed her to our urgent care center for help.

During her visit, we performed a thorough physical exam, noting Reina’s sore spots. She was especially feisty when we handled her front legs and the base of her spine, so we recommended skeletal X-rays to check for bony changes. We sedated Reina lightly, and took several X-rays of her forelimbs and her spine. Close examination of her X-rays indicated several areas of osteoarthritis in Reina’s elbows and lumbosacral region. This explained the sassy attitude when we checked her front legs and tail head—those areas hurt. 

After a few days, Reina was back to her old self. Although she wasn’t quite sure about the flavor of her pain medication and joint supplement, a few doses have already made a significant improvement in her comfort level, appetite, and attitude. Her family is thrilled that their lovable kitty has returned to their laps for petting and grooming, and that the accidents on beds and laundry are no more. 

Older kitties often have osteoarthritis pain that makes it difficult to enjoy their daily routines, such as family interaction, grooming, and jumping on furniture. Litter-box avoidance is another common sign of osteoarthritis pain in cats, especially if they are both urinating and defecating outside the box. Posturing to eliminate is painful, causing cats to associate the litter box with pain, and leading them to find more comfortable locations. 

Bruno’s story

Bruno is a boxy, barrel-chested beast of an American bulldog. Weighing in at 120 pounds, he’s a hunk of a lapdog, always eager to snuggle up on the couch with his favorite people. When Bruno began to sink into his fluffy doggy bed with a groan instead of leaping onto the couch to sleep his days away, his family believed it was simply because their pup was turning into an old man. 

One Sunday morning, Bruno could not carry out his daily routine. He struggled to rise for his normal stroll around the yard, falling over when he hiked his leg on his mom’s favorite rosebush. Sick with worry about their beloved pet, Bruno’s family rushed him to our urgent care center. 

Bruno had to be helped into our clinic with a towel sling under his belly to support his hind end. Still a happy pooch, he gave our team kisses and wagged his tail as he slunk to the floor. Bruno’s family noted that he never seemed painful or uncomfortable—he was simply less active. They also noticed that, despite a good appetite, he appeared to be losing weight, especially in his hind end. In addition, Bruno had developed a habit of licking at his hips that his family assumed was due to boredom, since he was less active. 

On further examination, we discovered a few pain indicators in Bruno:

  • Loss of muscle mass in the hind end
  • Weak, shaky hind legs
  • Inability to stand for extended periods of time
  • Rising and lying down slowly
  • Saliva staining on the bony points of the hips

Combining the physical exam findings with Bruno’s history, we recommended X-rays of his hind end. We focused on his hip sockets and knees, two areas most commonly affected by osteoarthritis in large dogs. Large breeds are prone to hip dysplasia, with osteoarthritis compounding issues as they age. Sadly, Bruno’s X-rays showed he appeared to be suffering from both. 

After his follow-up visit with his regular veterinarian later in the week, Bruno’s family was pleased to let us know that except for a little stiffness and soreness from the manipulations required for his X-rays, he was doing fabulously well. His family veterinarian will regularly monitor blood work to ensure his body is handling the pain medication appropriately. Bruno’s family has switched him to a prescription joint diet to help support his mobility, and made these additional changes to help him age gracefully:

  • Placing carpet runners on tile floors for traction
  • Switching out his fluffy bed for a supportive dog bed
  • Providing a ramp for car rides
  • Ensuring he gets low-impact exercise, such as swimming
  • Maintaining a lean body weight

While subtle signs of pain can be challenging to detect, monitor your pet for changes in appetite, attitude, and activity. She may show no signs, especially if she is aging, but she still may be in pain, yet reluctant to display her weakness. Be particularly vigilant with older pets. If your pet is uncomfortable and your regular veterinarian is unavailable, call us. We’re here to help your furry friend feel her best again.