Puppies and kittens play like athletes. They chase toys, tunnel through briars, and leap up each morning ready to start a new day.
As pets get older, however, their joints get a little creaky, and their backs stiffen up a bit. Plus, they have probably put on a little weight, which puts additional stress on tired joints. Eventually, some older pets begin having trouble moving or even getting up.
If your pet is generally in good health, difficulty getting up is probably caused by arthritis, says Joanne Hibbs, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in Powell, Tennessee. Years of chasing Frisbees or climbing trees can cause joints to break down, a condition that vets call osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Dogs and cats can also get rheumatoid arthritis, though not as often as people do.
Since pets do a lot of twisting and turning, both of which put a lot of stress on the back, arthritis of the spine is especially common. "A lot of dogs hurt their knees when they twist around at a full run," adds Grant Nisson, D.V.M., a veterinarian in private practice in West River, Maryland. "Injured joints can show signs of arthritis within a month."
Another condition that makes getting up difficult is hip dysplasia, a hereditary problem that literally means "badly made hips," says Dr. Nisson. When the hipbones don't fit together the way they should, pets can get sore and stiff. Any dog can get hip dysplasia, but it is more common in certain breeds of large dogs like German shepherds and Labrador and golden retrievers. Cats can get hip dysplasia, too. Persians are particularly prone to it. But because cats are well-muscled and relatively light, it usually doesn't bother them as much as it does dogs.
Finally, dogs and cats with internal illnesses like diabetes or cancer may have trouble getting up. To tell the difference between joint problems and more serious conditions, take a look at how well your pet is feeling, says Dr. Nisson. If she is eating well and seems happy and the stiffness has been coming on gradually, she probably has joint problems. But if the stiffness came on all at once, or she is losing her appetite or feeling under the weather, something more serious may be going on, and you should call your vet right away.
See Your Vet If...
- Your pet is elderly or overweight
- The stiffness is mainly in her hips
- The discomfort came on suddenly
- Your pet hasn't been eating well and appears to be ill
- Your pet has begun having trouble walking, getting up, or climbing stairs
- One or more legs is dragging
- He has a limp that doesn't go away
- One or more legs is in an awkward position
- There is swelling in the toes, feet, or legs
- Your pet can't get up
- Your pet is constantly licking or biting his feet
- The nails are broken, cracked, or bleeding
- There are cuts, blisters, growths, or burns on his paw pads
- Your pet is lame first in one leg and then another
- He has pain when jumping off a bed or changing position
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