As pets age, joint wear and tear can create a painful condition called osteoarthritis (i.e., degenerative joint disease [DJD]). Typically, you’ll notice your older pet slowing down, but younger pets born with abnormal joints or who are injured can also be affected. Untreated arthritis can significantly impact your pet’s quality of life, so your MetroPet Veterinary Clinic team offers multiple treatment options to combat this chronic condition, and keep your pet moving. 

How do you know if your pet has arthritis? Signs can be subtle, as pets are excellent at hiding pain, but the sooner you notice, the more successful the treatment. To help you identify and address these signs, here is an overview of arthritis in pets.

What is arthritis in pets?

Osteoarthritis is a local inflammatory process that happens inside or around a joint. Mechanical wear and tear causes cartilage in the joints to thin and degenerate, until bones rub against each other. This causes pain, bone spurs, and inflammation, and leads to further breakdown of the joint tissues, creating a vicious circle. Muscles around the joints may atrophy (i.e., become weaker), because pain or dysfunction prevents the joint from being used properly. 

What causes arthritis in pets?

Most pets are affected by arthritis at some point because of normal aging. Think of your middle-aged human friends—most of them likely have at least one bothersome joint—and pets experience the same aging processes. Abnormal joint mechanics, such as in hip or elbow dysplasia, can also cause wear and tear. These joints are subject to abnormal forces from daily walking and running, because they did not form correctly, so most pets with these conditions develop arthritis early in life. Injuries like ACL tears also predispose pets to arthritis development in the affected joint. 

Obesity is another major risk factor for arthritis. Extra pounds place excessive force on joints over time, so overweight pets may develop arthritis sooner than their slim counterparts. 

How can I recognize arthritis signs in my pet?

Your pet may not show obvious arthritis signs, so be aware of small behavior changes that might signal a problem. Some pets may not show any signs at all, but your veterinarian can detect changes in joint mobility on examination, so remember to bring in your pet for regular wellness visits.  

Dogs and cats show arthritis differently, since their typical daily behaviors vary.

Dogs may:

  • Slow down — Pet owners commonly feel their aging pet is sleeping more, or slowing down. The pet may take stairs more slowly, or only tolerate shorter walks.
  • Limp — Changes in your pet’s gait, shifting weight away from one side, or overtly holding up a leg may indicate arthritis. 
  • Have trouble rising — Arthritis pain and stiffness is often worse after a rest period. Dogs may have difficulty getting up after sleeping or resting, but then improve after moving around for a few minutes. 
  • Click, pop, or snap — Increased popping or grinding noises may occur when your pet moves, or when you feel their affected joints. 

Cats may:

  • Go outside the box — Arthritic cats may stop using their litter box, because they cannot step into and out of the high-sided box. 
  • Change jumping habits—If your cat can no longer jump onto favorite household items like furniture or countertops, arthritis may be to blame. 
  • Overgroom — Cats may lick or chew painful areas.

How is pet arthritis treated?

If you think your pet has developed arthritis, see your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan. The following treatments may be helpful:

  • Joint supplements — Oral or injectable supplements contain varying ingredients that can reduce pain and inflammation, and may slow further joint breakdown.
  • Anti-inflammatories — These prescription medications reduce pain and inflammation inside the joint. Pet-specific medications must be prescribed by a veterinarian, as human versions can be toxic to pets.
  • Alternative therapies — Chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, and laser therapy can reduce pain and improve function in arthritic pets.
  • Rehabilitation — Rehab therapies, such as water treadmill, therapeutic exercise, and massage, can improve range of motion and function.
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy — PRP and stem cell therapies are not widely available, but show some promise in helping joints regenerate. These are highly specialized procedures that require anesthesia. 

Can pet arthritis be prevented?

The best way to prevent arthritis in pets is to keep them at a healthy weight, to avoid excess strain on the joints. Your large-breed puppy should eat a diet specifically formulated to ensure their joints develop normally, while other pets require adequate, high quality nutrition. If your pet is injured during their lifetime, ensure they receive prompt treatment and post-injury rehabilitation, to minimize future joint damage. 

Arthritis may be common in pets, but it doesn’t have to slow them down. If you think your pet may have arthritis, call us to schedule an examination with your MetroPet Veterinary Clinic team, so we can get your pet back on their feet.