The early signs
Arthritis, in dogs as in humans, usually starts slowly, typically in middle age, though the early symptoms may have been present and ignored for several years. Humans are (or should be) aware of the condition and are likely to notice some early signs, like swelling of knuckle joints, or general stiffness, especially in the early morning,
It's not quite so easy to spot the start of the condition in your four-footed friend, but be on the lookout for:
- reduced enthusiasm for the morning walk
- walking rather than running when called to dinner
- a laisser-faire attitude to passing cats
This last sign is particularly telling. Think of the loss of self esteem, of dignity, experienced by the old chap when he realises his cat-chasing days are at an end. How can he meet his pals in the park, with no stories to tell of 'the one that got away'. Everything has changed. I'd have caught him if he hadn't dived under the fence - scores maybe seven points. I'm just not quick enough anymore - scores a miserable zero. Don't underestimate this. Why doesn't he want to walk in the park? He can still walk, even if he can't run fast. He is ashamed to meet his pals! Dogs are not politically correct. They will laugh at a loser, and he knows it.
Don't assume stiffness or lameness in your dog or cat is necessarily arthritis. There may be many causes. Always seek a professional opinion from a qualified veterinary surgeon and follow the advice or treatment. Much as we don't like going to the vet, we know it's in our best interest.
As so often happens, if you look into the problem, you will see the solution. The problem is the cat. Perhaps, then, the cat is also the answer? Let's take a step sideways and consider the kitty:
In case you hadn't noticed, no dog has ever caught a cat. There is always a hole in the fence, a convenient tree, the home-run cat-flap. Why is it always just in time? Because that's the game the cats play; the cats plan the route, they match the route to the dog's prowess and, except for silly puppies, the dogs know it well. There's a league table out there - the top dogs in any neighbourhood are paired up with the quickest cats. It's not about catching - it's about how close can you get!
Not surprisingly, cats also suffer from arthritis and they, too, endure mental torture when they have to drop out of the Great Game. Fortunately, the Cats' Protection League understands this fully and can usually offer, to a good home, a retired champion whose arthritic advancement is a close match to your ailing dog's. Often, the dog and cat will choose each other if you take the trouble to walk him through the retirement cattery. Ears will prick up. There will be that old familiar bristling and brindling, as the two veterans recognise each other through a handed down tradition of respect.
And you will be proud, and happy, to watch, perhaps for five more years, these grand veterans trot, then walk, then amble around your garden, till they finally lie down together to sleep. And dream of the Great Chase in the Sky where joints are purest silk and the final escape is shaved to a whisker.