Yes, it’s Winter and, yes, it’s cold! This morning, when I reluctantly crawled out of bed to meet a friend for a run, it was a chilly 4 degrees and my mini-dachshund, Gus, declined to join me, preferring his bed in front of the wood heater!

He got his walk at a much more civilised time!

Winter is also the time when we may notice our pets, especially our older ones, slowing down. We blame the cold or just old age but have you thought that there may be more to it than that? Osteoarthritis, (commonly just called arthritis), is a very common reason for our older pets to ‘slow down’ and it is because their joints are feeling painful.

So how do we know if our animals might be suffering with joint pain? Look for the following signs:

  • Difficulty getting up or down especially on cold mornings.
  • Stiff when walking or trotting. They may then walk normally once they warm up.
  • Not being able to walk as far or pulling up sore after a walk.
  • Crying when moving in bed at night or not being able to settle in bed.
  • Snapping, growling or otherwise being unusually aggressive if touched or lifted.
  • Seeking more attention or, with some dogs, becoming withdrawn.

If you have noticed any or several of these signs in your pet, it is important visit to your vet to find out the cause of the pain. If your pet is diagnosed with arthritis, usually with a clinical examination and xrays, then there are several things you can do.

  • Get your pet a nice soft bed for both day and night. Consider a heated bed or hot pack if your pet sleeps outdoors.
  • Consider bringing your pet indoors to sleep.
  • There are several dietary supplements on the market for which there is growing evidence that they help manage arthritic pain. Ask your vet about what is best for your dog. They are usually available over the counter. Some foods have the supplements added to make it easy to give (and remember!)
  • Keep your pet a healthy weight. Overweight pets put a much bigger load on their joints. This is a really important part of treatment that can be easily ignored.
  • Courses of injections have been found to be great in helping lots of dogs, especially when the arthritis is not too severe.
  • Giving medications prescribed by your vet to decrease inflammation can make a real difference in many dogs and cats. These can only be given under direction of a vet as there may be potentially nasty side effects if the medication is given to animals that are not suitable candidates for it.

So next time your pet prefers the heater to a walk with you on a cold, wintry morning, have a closer look at him or her and see if there may be an underlying reason…or maybe, like Gus, they just want to stay warm!