Arthritis affects a pet’s joints—causing inflammation and pain—and this condition can be difficult to identify in the early stages because animals, who are stoic by nature, may exhibit few signs. However, as the condition progresses, your pet’s pain may increase, causing stiffness and decreased mobility. Learn to recognize your pet’s arthritis signs, so you can get them effective treatment, because when their condition is well-managed, they can live a long and healthy life. Our Juanita Hills Animal Hospital team answers commonly asked questions about arthritis in pets.
Question: What causes arthritis in pets?
Answer: Arthritis is a result of damage—wear and tear—to the cartilage within the affected joint. Many factors contribute to cartilage damage, including:
- Age — As pets age, their joints undergo more wear and tear, which can lead to osteoarthritis, the most common arthritis type in older pets.
- Breed and size — Large- and giant-breed dogs, including golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and German shepherd dogs, are predisposed to joint conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, and osteochondrosis—a developmental disease that rapidly growing large-breed dogs typically experience between 6 and 9 months of age.
- Illness — With autoimmune diseases, your pet’s immune system attacks their body’s own cells. Several autoimmune conditions, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can cause joint inflammation, which can lead to arthritis.
- Injuries —Orthopedic injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears, patellar luxation (i.e. kneecap dislocations), and fractures, can predispose your pet’s joints to arthritis.
- Weight — Being overweight places extra stress on your pet’s joints, and increases their arthritis risk. In addition, excessive fat tissue releases hormones that can contribute to inflammation and pain throughout the body.
Q: Does arthritis affect cats?
A: Arthritis affects dogs and cats, with both species having similar signs. Some cat breeds—Maine coons, Persians, Scottish folds, and Siamese cats—have an increased arthritis risk, because their cartilage or hips often develop abnormally. Arthritis most commonly affects a cat’s back or legs, extremely limiting their mobility, but the condition can affect any of their body parts. An arthritic cat may begin limping or favoring one leg when they walk, and they may stop using their litter box, because they cannot comfortably navigate the box’s high sides.
Q: What are the signs of arthritis in pets?
A: Arthritic pets experience pain caused by a joint’s damage, and the resulting signs are attributable to their discomfort. Early-stage arthritis signs may be subtle and difficult to detect, because pets often hide their pain until it becomes unmanageable. Pets’ arthritis signs can include:
- Difficulty moving
- Abnormal gait
- Muscle atrophy
- Reluctance to rise, or difficulty rising
- Disinterest in exercise
- Reluctance to go up and down stairs, jump on furniture, or get in the car
- Abnormal behaviors (i.e., irritability or withdrawal)
- Pain when handled
- Licking or chewing at the painful joint
Q: How is arthritis in pets diagnosed?
A: To determine whether your pet has arthritis, your veterinarian will first perform a thorough physical examination to observe your pet’s gait, their movements when they stand and sit, and abnormal body or appendage shifting. Your veterinarian will also palpate your pet’s joints—to detect swelling and heat—and manipulate each joint to evaluate its range of motion. In addition to performing your pet’s physical examination, your veterinarian may order X-rays and diagnostic testing to definitively diagnose your pet’s condition, and rule out underlying infection.
Q: What are the treatments for arthritis in pets?
A: While arthritis has no cure, many treatments can manage your pet’s pain and improve their quality of life. To treat your pet’s arthritis signs, your veterinarian may recommend one or more of these strategies:
- Weight and diet management — Maintaining an appropriate weight is one of the best ways to help reduce your pet’s arthritis pain, because extra weight causes extra pressure on their already-weak joints.
- Appropriate exercise — Daily exercise is crucial for keeping your pet’s muscles strong, but they should only perform low-impact activities, such as swimming or walking, to prevent putting too much strain on their painful joints.
- Pain-relieving medications — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often the first line of defense for arthritis pain relief. Opioids can also be beneficial, but many pets do well with long-term NSAID use.
- Joint supplements — High-quality joint supplements that contain ingredients, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussel, are great for reducing joint inflammation and supporting joint cartilage health.
- Alternative therapies — Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, hydrotherapy, and laser therapy, can effectively complement traditional veterinary treatments.
- Surgery — If your pet has a torn CCL, or suffers from hip dysplasia, your veterinarian may recommend orthopedic surgery to repair or correct the problem.
Arthritis is a painful, debilitating condition that causes inflammation in pets’ joints. If you suspect your pet has arthritis, contact our Juanita Hills Animal Hospital team so we can pinpoint the source of your pet’s stiff joints and pain, and recommend treatment options to ensure they remain comfortable.