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 seniors.
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 condition.
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 topic.
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 heart and vice versa! F1000 Med Rep 2010 Apr 12;2,pii:27.
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 osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum 2004;50:1207-1215.
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Smith GK, Paster ER, Powers MY, et al. Lifelong diet restriction and radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip joint in dogs. JAVMA 2006;229:690-693.
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Narici MV, Maffulli N. Sarcopenia: characteristics, mechanisms and functional significance. Br Med Bull 2010;95:139-159. Epub 2010 Mar 2.
Hayek MG. Age-related changes in physiological function in the dog and cat: Nutritional implications. In: Reinhart GA, Carey DP, eds. Recent Advances in Canine and Feline Nutrition, Vol. II: 1998 Iams Nutrition Symposium Proceedings. Wilmington, Ohio: Orange: Orange Frazer Press; 1998:353-362.
Evans WJ, Paolisso G, Abbatecola AM, et al. Frailty and muscle metabolism dysregulation in the elderly. Biogerontology 2010;11:527-536.
Leddy HA, Guilak F. Site-specific effects of compression on macro-molecular diffusion in articular cartilage. Biophys J 2008;95:4890-4895.