Is your dog slower on your daily walks, or does your cat no longer jump to the top of your bookcase for an afternoon nap? Arthritis commonly affects pets, but many owners don’t recognize the problem because the signs can be subtle, or they attribute the changes to normal aging. Once the condition is recognized, our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team can devise an effective plan to manage your pet’s pain and improve their mobility. The following article provides information about pet arthritis to help you determine if your pet is affected. 

What is pet arthritis?

Arthritis isn’t a single disease—arthritis is a term that refers to joint pain or joint disease. Many types are recognized in humans and pets, with the following the most commonly diagnosed in pets:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) — The most frequently diagnosed arthritis type in pets is osteoarthritis (OA), a term derived from the Greek words “osteo,” (i.e., bone), “arthro” (i.e., joint), and “itis” (i.e., inflammation). OA is a complex condition that occurs when the cartilage that acts as a cushion between bones in a joint degenerates, which causes friction between the bones and leads to inflammation, pain, and decreased mobility.
  • Inflammatory joint disease — Inflammatory arthritis is usually caused by bacterial or fungal infections or tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Immune mediated conditions can also lead to this arthritis type.

What causes pet osteoarthritis?

Several factors can contribute to OA in pets, including:

  • Age — Excessive wear and tear on the joints can lead to arthritis, with senior pets at higher risk.
  • Weight — Carrying excess weight places additional stress on the pet’s joints. Also, fat cells produce inflammatory mediators, which in turn produce chronic, low-grade inflammation throughout the body and contribute to the problem.
  • Joint development — Pets who have abnormal joint development and suffer conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans, and luxating patellas, are commonly also affected by arthritis.
  • Injury — Pets who have experienced bone, muscle, tendon, or ligament injuries involving a joint are predisposed to arthritis.

How do I know if my pet has osteoarthritis?

OA signs in pets can be subtle, but signs that may indicate your pet is affected include:

  • Reluctance or refusal to jump on or off surfaces
  • Difficulty using the stairs
  • Stiffness after resting, especially for long periods
  • Difficulty rising from a resting position
  • Increased time spent sleeping
  • Moving slower on walks
  • Exhibiting less enthusiasm about physical activity
  • Less interaction with people and other pets
  • Less time spent grooming
  • Increased irritability or uncharacteristic aggression

How is osteoarthritis diagnosed in pets?

When we evaluate your pet during their wellness examination or when you bring them in because of your arthritis concerns, diagnostic tools used include:

  • History — Our veterinary team asks detailed questions to determine if your pet is exhibiting signs that may indicate they have joint pain. This step is extremely important, because many pets act differently in unfamiliar settings.
  • Physical examination — We watch your pet’s gait as they walk and observe your pet as they move from a resting to standing position. We also palpate and manipulate your pet’s joints to feel for swelling and determine if we cause discomfort.
  • X-rays — Our veterinary team may recommend an X-ray of the affected joint to determine the damage.
  • Bloodwork — We may perform a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile to rule out other conditions and ensure your pet can tolerate commonly used arthritis medications.

How is osteoarthritis treated in pets?

OA cannot be cured, but proper management can mitigate their pain and improve mobility. Multimodal approaches, which tend to work best, include:

  • Weight management — If your pet is overweight, we will devise a safe weight loss program to help them lose the excess pounds. Weight reduction can significantly decrease OA-associated lameness. 
  • Exercise modification — Regular physical activity is important when treating OA, but  avoid high impact exercises and engage in multiple, short sessions rather than long ones. If your pet is unused to physical activity, gradually increase the exercise intensity as they get more fit.
  • Physical rehabilitation — Passive stretching, range of motion exercises, controlled walking through obstacles, and swimming can help decrease pain and increase range of motion. In addition, these exercises can help overweight pets lose weight.
  • Pain management — If medications are necessary to help control your pet’s pain, our veterinary team will determine the best product for your pet.
  • Environmental modification — You can make simple changes in your home that will improve your pet’s comfort, such as:
    • Providing ramps or stairs to elevated areas
    • Providing comfortable, supportive bedding
    • Raising your pet’s food and water bowls
    • Ensuring your floors are skid-proof

  • Joint supplements — Our veterinary team may prescribe joint supplements, such as omega-3-fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate.
  • Surgery — In some cases, pets will need surgery to remove damaged tissue and stabilize the joint.

This information should help you determine if your pet is exhibiting signs that may indicate joint pain. If your pet is slowing down or seems stiff after resting, contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team, so we can determine if arthritis is contributing to their problems, and develop a management protocol, if necessary.