Enjoying daily activity without stiffness and pain is key to our companion
animals living “the good life” in their Golden Years. Because joint stiffness,
muscle loss, pain and weakness can negatively impact quality of life,
maintaining good mobility and strength is vital for better ‘healthspans’, a term
we introduced last month, which refers to leading longer, healthier lifetimes.
In companion animals of a certain age, bodily systems start to degrade,
breaking down at a cellular level. Just like in the whisper-circle game, where
one person tells another a simple message, which is then repeated to each
successive person … invariably, the message changes over the course of multiple
re-tellings. Similarly, the cells are replicating over and over again, and after
so many redo’s, the genetic messages become garbled. On the macroscopic scale,
this means a loss of strength and mobility.
Arthritis and frailty syndrome are two major complaints for aging dogs and
cats. By focusing on wellness and prevention of these ailments early in life, we
can help to improve the quality of life of our furry ones when they become
Long Live the Joints
Arthritis in the joints can lead to multiple problems. Pain and stiffness
lead to disuse and muscle atrophy, which reduces the body’s ability to absorb
the shock of physical impacts, propogating pain and disuse of the joints. It’s a
vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. Decreased motion in the joint itself inhibits
circulation of joint fluid. Joint fluid is vital as it lubricates the joint and
provides nutrition to the cartilage via a process called ‘imbibition’. During
imbibition, cartilage works like a sponge, absorbing and expelling liquid. When
pressure is exerted during exercise, joint fluid is squeezed out … when pressure
is removed, the cartilage is refilled with new joint fluid, nourishing cartilage
cells and fueling regeneration. When pain and stiffness hinder motion, the
process of imbibition is interrupted, and cartilage cells fail to receive the
nutrients they need to regenerate properly.
But how do you know whether or not your dear companion is suffering from
joint disease? Click here to watch an instructional video for details about this
Arthritis can negatively affect areas of the body other than the joints. In
humans, studies have shown the inflammation caused by arthritis can increase the
risk of cardiovascular disease (Muller-Ladner et al. 2010). Systemic
inflammation in dogs and cats can worsen symptoms of concurrent diseases, such
as diabetes, IBS, and feline interstitial cystitis. These are just more reasons
why joint wellness is so vital to overall health.
Unfortunately, osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions among
senior dogs and cats. As we advance in age, so too grows the risk of developing
arthritis, true for both pets and people (DeGroot et al. 2004, Abdulrahee et al.
2011, Smith et al. 2006). Sadly, this problem frequently goes undiagnosed and
untreated, as our companion animals can’t just tell us the moment symptoms
begin. The good news is that a more recent study suggests that osteoarthritis is
not an inevitable feature of aging (Goyal et al, 2010). We have reason to
believe that early, proactive measures to maintain joint wellness may actually
reduce the risk of developing this debilitating disease.
If you are proactive, you can identify early signs of joint pain in your pet.
With proper care, you can help to reduce stiffness, manage pain, and improve
cartilage nutrition, all with an eye towards counteracting the detrimental
changes associated with arthritis. Part of being proactive is being educated
about these conditions, which is why I’m devoting this post to this important
In my experience, older companion animals with frailty issues fit into one of
either two categories …
1) those who are often overweight but otherwise relatively healthy, with varying
amounts of physical disability (e.g., slow to rise, will no longer willingly
jump up onto a couch, etc.)
2) those who are extremely frail and have diminished appetite, weight loss,
concurrent diseases, with extreme loss of strength and mobility
In humans, those who fit in the second category are described as suffering from
‘frailty syndrome’. This condition makes the body more susceptible to disease
and is associated with sarcopenia, a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass
and strength which also affects endurance. Keep in mind that muscle not only
provides strength, it’s critical for healthy metabolism, too. Sarcopenia is
caused by disuse of the muscles, hormonal changes, chronic disease, long-term
inflammation (especially in the nervous system), and possibly even certain
nutritional deficiencies (Evans et. al, 2010). And now, as our four-legged
friends are living longer than in decades past, we are seeing more dogs and cats
exhibiting characteristics of frailty syndrome. Maintaining muscle mass with
exercise and high quality nutrition both play important roles in helping our
dogs and cats age well.
If your pet is already experiencing frailty issues, in many cases it is not
too late to make a change. Rehabilitation veterinarians can work with your dog
or cat to gently strengthen muscles and greatly improve the quality of life,
even during their Golden Years, as long as voluntary motor function is present.
Be aware, however, that there is a fine line between building muscle and pushing
them into unnecessary fatigue, so I recommend working with a veterinarian with
some training in rehabilitation. Check out the American Association of
Rehabilitation Veterinarians web site (http://www.rehabvets.org/) to find one of these specialists near you.
All of us here at Life’s Abundance are committed to helping companion animals
live longer and healthier lives. Every product that I formulate is created to
help improve pet health and quality of life. As we’ve seen, maintaining muscle
strength and joint mobility are incredibly important elements of healthspans. By
taking steps for wellness early on, you might just make a significant difference
later on in your companion animal’s Golden Years.
Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.
Dr. Jane Bicks
Muller-Ladner U, Tarner IH, Hamm C, Lange U. Cardiovascular risk management in
patients with inflammatory arthritis: What is good for the joint is good for the
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DeGroot J, Verzijl N, Wenting-van Wijk MJ, et al. Accumulation of advanced
glycation end products as a molecular mechanism for aging as a risk factor in
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Smith GK, Paster ER, Powers MY, et al. Lifelong diet restriction and
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Goyal N, Gupta M, Joshi K, Nagi ON. Immunohistochemical analysis of ageing and
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Narici MV, Maffulli N. Sarcopenia: characteristics, mechanisms and functional
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Evans WJ, Paolisso G, Abbatecola AM, et al. Frailty and muscle metabolism
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