As the average age in the US increases, so does awareness and treatment for muscle and joint related pain. Similar ailments in pets have long existed. And amazingly, often pet owners do not even realize or adjust their routine and play habits with their 7 year old dog or 9 year old cat who are actually considered geriatric pets.
Perhaps as a result of the baby boom generation entering their retirement years, or greater patient awareness and acceptance of alternative treatment methods, pets are benefiting from many new human-based technologies to help them in their old age. It may be news to many, that veterinarians must often wait for FDA approval for drugs and technologies to be proven safe in humans before vets can use them for their 4-legged patients. Among the more popular treatments for achy joints in pets are:
- Drugs such as Glucosamine and Chondroitin
- Physical rehabilitation along with diet management
- Acupuncture and Massage Therapy
- Low-level laser therapy
- Surgery to replace hips or knee joints
It is important to distinguish between pets who have suffered an injury from those who are suffering from the effects of aging or obesity or from those who are suffering from all three.
In my practice I am seeing more cats, as well as dogs, who are overweight, have injuries, or are getting more mature and starting to suffer from such common age-related ailments such as arthritis. My recommendation is usually one or more of the following:
- Underwater Treadmill Therapy, and/or
- Companion Therapy Laser
Acupuncture, one of the oldest forms of medical treatment, has benefits that have become so recognized that many insurance companies are now reimbursing clients and/or doctors for the treatment. And the cost of acupuncture has made this treatment method reachable even to those with relatively tight budgets. Pets with achy joints often get immediate relief from just their first session, with many falling asleep while I’m treating them. The benefits from acupuncture normally last from weeks to a couple of months.
Many people know that after major injuries, surgeries, or for weight loss, a treadmill can be a wonderful tool to rehabilitate weak muscles and burn calories. One of the newest treatments for pets with similar conditions is an underwater treadmill. The pet steps onto the treadmill, which is normally enclosed with see-through glass walls of about 3 feet in height, and then 90 degree water rises from the floor to about the top of the pets legs. The warm water has a number of roles in the treatment:
- It provides resistance for the legs as the pet walks, which allows me to control the amount of exercise the patient is receiving.
- Warm water provides the pet with buoyancy, so that even pets with partial paralysis can still move their legs and strengthen muscles without stressing the joints that may not otherwise support the pet’s weight.
- The warm water relaxes the muscles, stimulates blood flow better than cold water, and the pets seem to enjoy the warmer water much better which increases their tolerance of the rehabilitation therapy.
The benefits of lasers have been well documented as providing finer cutting during surgery and to stimulate healing in humans. Well, these same lasers are now being used to treat pets for conditions below the skin and without resorting to surgery A new form of treatment for pets (and FDA approved), utilizes laser beams to treat achy joints, help heal injuries, and treat many different skin conditions. The difference between treating the pet’s skin versus a hip or other joint, is often just the length of how long the pet gets “lasered”. The laser has been called “Companion Therapy Laser” and is a Class 4 laser, which means that precautions must be taken by a vet in its use, and thus is also a significant investment in time and money by animal hospitals who want to use it. Good Morning America designated it as their Pet Product of the Year for 2009 for treating pet ailments. I find that the benefits of laser use are faster and more lasting than some of the other treatment options. Work with your veterinarian to decide which method is best for you and your pet.
I am amazed with the advances in recent treatment options for pets, My most satisfying cases are those where the pet owners have been told or are considering euthanizing their pets, and through acupuncture, rehabilitation exercise, or laser therapy, are able to give pets a second chance or an extra year of life with their families.