Besides being a veterinarian I also write a weekly editorial for The Times News on vet medicine. I've decided to start posting it here. There will be a new one each Thursday. I will not give ANY veterinary advice here so please don't ask for it. Just want to share my column with you all. Don’t Let Your Older Pet Suffer in Silence Thanks to better medicines, balanced commercial diets, and the increasing importance of the human animal bond, more pets are living well into their golden years. Owners are more concerned with their pet’s wellbeing and veterinarians are more proactive in recognizing the early signs of disease. Senior pets have their own unique health concerns and owners need to educate themselves about the early signs that a problem may be brewing. Age is not a disease and a healthy older pet should be active and happy. When a cat or dog starts “slowing down” it’s time to consider arthritis. Arthritis is a degenerative disease of synovial joints. Synovial joints are ones in which the ends of two bones that oppose each other are coated with caps of cartilage and encased in a fluid filled capsule. Knees, hips, and elbows are all synovial joints. Arthritis starts when cartilage is damaged or worn during use or as a result of trauma. Congenital bone deformation and increased joint laxity also contribute to the onset of arthritis. Once the process starts the joint becomes inflamed and painful. The cartilage cushion deteriorates and the joint fluid loses its lubricating properties. Eventually permanent changes occur in the bones themselves. Although most commonly recognized in larger dogs any dog or cat is susceptible to painful degenerative arthritis. In dogs early signs of arthritis include reluctance to go up and down stairs, tiring easily during exercise, sleeping more frequently, and difficulty in rising from a seated position. In more severe cases dogs may limp or cry out, walk with a stiff gait and even growl or snap when handled. Because of their smaller size and natural agility the signs of arthritis in cats are more subtle. Reluctance to jump onto counters, increased time spent sleeping, resistance to petting, or subtle behavioral changes can all be signs that your cat is in discomfort. Only in the most severe cases will cats limp or cry out in pain. Ideally arthritis prevention starts at home. Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight can delay the onset of arthritis. Feed a good quality commercial diet and keep snacking to a minimum. A regular exercise program will help to keep your pet’s weight down and maintain joint flexibility. If your pet is at a good weight keep it that way. If she’s overweight get her started on diet and exercise program right away. Once your pet starts showing symptoms it’s time to see the vet. Millions of prescriptions for arthritis medication have been written and there are many brands for your veterinarian to choose from. Much like human arthritis formulations these medications work to decrease inflammation and pain within the joint. For many pets these drugs are truly life extending. Currently there are no medications specifically labeled for treating arthritis in cats. Some medications are better than others for cats and veterinarians are using them successfully, but this needs to be done with close supervision and regular monitoring. Your veterinarian may also recommend a nutritional supplement that includes glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These products supply the building blocks for maintaining healthy joint cartilage. Since these products are not drugs they are not subject to the same testing regulations and not all veterinarians agree as to their effectiveness. One thing that most veterinarians do agree on is that supplements are best used in the earliest stages of arthritis when adequate cartilage remains. If your pet is slowing down it may not just be old age. Pay close attention to your pet and learn to recognize the subtle signs of early arthritis. Remember age is not a disease and there is no reason for your healthy older pet to suffer in silence.