What to know about watching pets in winter

I sincerely hope everyone had a great holiday season and a wonderful start to the new year. I hope everyone made it through the travel and indulgences without too many problems.

My biggest problem is, and will continue to be, my mother’s homemade chicken and noodles. Nonetheless, after waiting for an extended period of time, the changeover to winter finally came to central Indiana. The colder temperatures that accompany our normal winter season not only affect us, but also our pets.

One of the concerns veterinarians see consistently this time of year is the increase in mobility issues in older pets. Just as humans are adversely bothered by colder, damp conditions and arthritic issues, so are dogs and cats.

Our pets are mammals with a faster metabolic rate than ours (one year of a dog’s life is equivalent of seven years of a human’s). So just as our knees, hips, elbows, ankles, back, seem to pop, crack and ache more as we age and as the weather turns, the same issues occur with our pets.

The issue is at the age of 6 to 7 for our pets, we are looking straight down the barrel of middle age human (45 to 55). I, myself, have reached this wonderful time of life and sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies some mornings getting out of bed. Larger breeds age quicker and have a shorter lifespan than smaller breeds, so in turn, the point at which these big breeds have older age issues is sometimes even at 4 to 5 years of age.

Keeping your pet active and at the appropriate weight for its bone structure helps to minimize the problems, however, no one escapes the effects of time. Injuries and overuse also play a part in the development of joint problems, but the majority of problems are just age-related.

A common term used with joint soreness and stiffness often misinterpreted is dysplasia. There are true dysplasia issues in hips and elbows (other joints possibly) in mainly larger breeds of dogs. This condition is a genetic predisposition to develop arthritic problems in an affected joint at an earlier age than one would expect. That is to say, a young dog has significant issues with mobility due to arthritic problems as seen by bone changes diagnosed by x-ray or other imaging. If the animal in question is an older pet, then the problem is not likely dysplasia but age-related arthritis causing the mobility problems.

There are many treatments for age-related arthritic problems. These range from surgical options to medical management. You should always consult with your veterinarian before doing anything at home.

Things we can safely do at home include, as earlier mentioned, moderate exercise and diet. Just as in humans, the activity benefits muscle tone and flexibility, lessening the effects of the arthritic changes. Keeping your pet at the proper weight for its size also helps.

There are also special beds, mats and blankets that are commercially available at a variety of stores that provide comfort while the pet is at rest. They either provide extra cushioning or heat, or in some cases, both.

So, on one of these cold winter days, it’s good for your pet to be under a heated blanket with you on the couch. Think of it as therapy for your pet, and maybe you as well.

Dr. Bob Barnes is the owner and veterinarian at Mt. Comfort Animal Hospital in Greenfield.