Most owners will have to deal with an arthritic pet at some point in their lives. Our ability to manage the pain associated with arthritis in animals is much better than it used to be, but monitoring response to treatment is still frustrating. I wish I could ask these patients how effective they felt a particular treatment regimen was for them. Until the “translator” we were discussing on Monday is available, owners are still in the best position to provide this information.

There are objective ways for veterinarians to monitor their osteoarthritis patients (e.g., force plate analysis, which measures how much weight an individual is bearing on each limb), but these advanced methodologies are not available in the primary care setting and are therefore not accessible to most owners.

A number of owner surveys (e.g., Liverpool Osteoarthritis in Dogs’, the Helsinki Chronic Pain Index, and the Canine Brief Pain Inventory) have been developed in an attempt to quantify the subjective determination of whether or not a pet’s pain is improving or worsening. If your veterinarian is familiar with one protocol and recommends that you make use of it, please do so.

Owners can also come up with their own, simple questionnaires individualized to their pets' condition. The forms can be as simple as five questions regarding different aspects of the patient’s mobility and comfort assessed on a scale of one to five. Here’s an example of what one might look like for Jessie, a cat with arthritis, based on what her owners have determined is most important to maintaining her quality of life.

Rank the following on a scale of 1 to 5:

1 = very poor, 2 = poor, 3 = unsure, 4 = good, 5 = very good

Jessie’s mood, characterized primarily by her willingness to interact with the family, is:

1              2              3              4              5

Jessie’s ability to climb to her favorite perch in front of the living room window is:

1              2              3              4              5

Jessie’s severity/frequency of vocalizations associated with pain is:

1              2              3              4              5

Jessie’s desire to fetch cotton swabs (a favorite pastime) is:

1              2              3              4              5

Jessie’s ability to use the litter box without apparent discomfort is:

1              2              3              4              5

Depending on a pet’s situation, relevant questions could touch upon his or her:

  • mood
  • playfulness
  • ability to eat comfortably
  • vocalizations associated with pain
  • ability to walk, trot, or gallop after rest and/or after exercise
  • ability to jump or climb
  • ease with lying down and rising

Perform the assessment daily at the onset of therapy and immediately after treatment has been changed for a week or so. Weekly monitoring should be sufficient when a patient is on cruise control. Add up the pet’s total score and write it down on a calendar along with any other pertinent information, like changes in treatment protocols or extremes in exercise. Looking back at how the numbers have changed over time and with alterations in treatment can prevent owners and veterinarians from becoming lax in scrutinizing an arthritic pet’s comfort level.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Peredniankina / via Shutterstock