It is true that as people and pets age, most of us become less active and have some degree of muscle wasting even in the absence of underlying disease (sarcopenia). However, some signs of ‘slowing down’ such as reluctance to jump or go on walks, waxing/waning appetite or activity, and lethargy may be subtle unrecognized indications of more serious illness. Chronic ‘bulging’ intervertebral disc disease and osteoarthritis are common in middle-aged to geriatric pets and these disease processes are a source of pain, inflammation, and discomfort for the pet. Metabolic myopathies, like myopathy associated with muscle carnitine deficiency, can cause sometimes very severe generalized muscle pain and neck pain. Undiagnosed tumors in the spleen, liver, or other abdominal organs can intermittently have ‘small bleeds’ into the abdomen, resulting in an anemia that can wax and wane. These pets in particular are at risk for a life-threatening ‘big bleed’ (hemoabdomen).
There are some pet owners who do not think the pet is in pain despite clear radiographic evidence of severe osteoarthritis or multiple bulging discs, or when there is physical examination findings supportive of severe muscle pain. Veterinarians are formally trained to identify pain and discomfort in pets who cannot speak for themselves, even when it is not appreciated by the pet owner.
There are medications that can help address discomfort and inflammation, however many of these medications have side effects, especially in geriatric pets that may have multiple underlying disease processes, and also have the potential to interact with other medications that the pet may be taking. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the body, especially in the spinal cord. High-intensity Artemis laser therapy can help with local pain and inflammation (ie one or more joints with osteoarthritis). Acupuncture is another part of multi-modal pain relief for a variety of conditions and disease processes.
Please call your primary care veterinarian for routine wellness care tailored to your geriatric pet (including bloodwork, radiographs, urinalysis, and abdominal ultrasound) and ask if a referral for a specialist consultation for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, high intensity Artemis laser therapy, or acupuncture is recommended for your pet, especially those diagnosed with osteoarthritis, chronic intervertebral disc disease, or muscle pain.
Jessica Diaz, DVM