An owner’s guide to managing OA in small animals – Part 3: Keeping them warm and comfortable
Here it is, part 3 of the OA blogs! This time round on how to keep them warm in the colder weather, and how to keep them more comfortable!
Keeping them warm
In part 2 we mentioned warming up before exercise but there are plenty of other ways to keep patients warm, which can be applied in other aspects of their lives.
Whilst out on walks or just outside in general, dog jackets are great for providing them with an extra layer during colder weather. Yes, most dogs do have a natural fur coat but unless they have a double coat similar to that of a Newfoundland, they will probably still feel the cold and therefore, a jacket will definitely help.
External sources of heat such as heat packs/wheat bags are also good ways to provide some warmth as well as a mild analgesic affect to arthritic joints. However, heat packs should only be used if prescribed by a vet or vet physio as there are several instances where they should not be used e.g. patient suffering from certain cardiac or respiratory diseases, areas of swelling and/or infection, directly over cancer, and very overweight patients. If you are using them, be sure to monitor them as older animals can’t regulate their body heat as well as younger animals and may start panting and getting hot quicker than you realise.
Additionally, if your dog is undergoing hydrotherapy, a jacket will be essential. Even if your dog is towel and blow dried after each session, their coat may still be damp which will drop their body temperature further. Having a towel jacket for after each session will make sure they keep as warm as possible.
Photo credit: Ruff and Tumble
Keeping them comfortable
Everything that we do for patients with arthritis is in an effort to make them more comfortable. All of the aspects that have already been discussed from stopping them jumping in/out of the car, to giving them appropriate medication, to keeping them at a healthy weight, will all improve their comfort levels. However, perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome is actually noticing pain in animals as they don’t show pain in the same way we do. Dogs and cats won’t vocalise or yelp with their arthritis unless it becomes excruciating but they will show certain behavioural changes. These sorts of changes include; sudden onset of a noise phobia, depressed mood, changes to their posture or physical appearance, limping, licking their joints, unsettled at night, and changes in their temperament, to name just a few. If you notice any of these behaviour or physical changes in your pet, it is important that you get them seen to by a vet to make sure you know exactly what is causing the pain and hopefully begin to manage it.
When it comes to their beds, make sure it is still providing enough cushion for them. If they’ve had the same bed for several years, it will likely have become thin and worn down and when this happens, they require replacing. A dog may not use the new bed straight away but it’s crucial you persevere as they will eventually get used to the new bed. Additionally, make sure there are no sides if possible, this makes it easier for them to get in and out. Place it in a warm area of the house that will not get too cold during the night so that they won’t wake up quite as stiff.
When it comes to their food bowls, try placing them on a small block (around elbow height is a good starting point and you can adjust for your individual dog). When dogs move their head up and down, this shifts their weight and centre of gravity. Therefore, if they have OA in their front legs or their centre of gravity is already shifted forward due to a back leg issue, having to eat directly off the floor can pose a challenge for them. By raising the bowls, they will be able to stand for longer in order to eat and drink as it will be a more comfortable standing position, and it may even increase their appetite if they’re off their food as a result.
Photo credit: Daily Dog Stuff
As discussed in part 1, rehabilitation can be very beneficial benefit for improving their comfort levels. This is achieved by using things like manual therapy e.g. massage and stretching to make their muscles more comfortable, electrotherapies such as therapeutic laser to provide some pain relief, and remedial exercises to encourage better postures and improve their strength.
Everything that has been mentioned in these blogs should, ideally, be included into the overall management of patients with OA and hopefully there are some new pieces of information as well as simple suggestions that will make a huge difference. If you would like to learn even more about these management strategies and about OA itself, visit the Canine Arthritis Management (CAM) and the Veterinary Osteoarthritis Alliance (VOA) websites. These sites have endless amounts of useful and easily digestible information, as well as communities to help owners support each other when managing an arthritic dog.
Hopefully these blogs have given you some food for thought if you have an arthritic animal. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.