Like people, pets can develop osteoarthritis. According to some estimates, arthritis affects 20% of dogs and between 40% and 92% of cats, and the condition can manifest in many different ways, depending on an affected pet’s species, age, and health. Despite this degenerative disease’s prevalence, many pet owners don’t realize their pet is suffering until the condition worsens and causes significant pain. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch team wants to ensure your pet doesn’t suffer in silence. We explain arthritis causes, signs, diagnosis, and treatment options, so you can help your pet receive the pain treatment they need to continue enjoying a good quality life. 

What causes arthritis in pets?

This disease is a degenerative condition that causes the cartilage that normally cushions the impact between a joint’s bones to break down. Eventually, the bones begin rubbing against each other, causing pain, inflammation, and decreased mobility. While any pet can develop arthritis, certain factors can increase their risk, including:

  • Age — Joints’ chronic wear and tear that occurs over time can cause older pets to develop arthritis more often than younger ones. However, pets of any age can develop arthritis. 
  • Joint conditions — Conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or luxating patellas can increase a pet’s arthritis risk. 
  • Previous injury — An earlier joint fracture or the knee’s cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) rupture can weaken a pet’s joints and increase their arthritis risk. 
  • Weight — Overweight pets are more likely to develop arthritis because of the extra strain their added pounds put on their joints. This additional pressure can increase the cartilage deterioration rate.
  • Activity level — A young pet who exercises strenuously, especially if they participate in activities that involve sudden starts and stops, and jumping, puts too much pressure on their developing joints, which can lead to arthritis. 
  • Breed — Large- and giant-breed pets, as well as breeds with long bodies and short legs, have a higher arthritis risk. Cat breeds who have a greater genetic arthritis disposition include Maine coons, Scottish fold cats, Persian cats, and Siamese cats.

What are arthritis signs in pets?

Without treatment, arthritis worsens over time, making early detection and prompt treatment essential to managing the disease’s progression. While cats and dogs can suffer from arthritis, the initial signs can vary between species and tend to be more subtle in felines. As a pet’s joint pain increases, they exhibit arthritis signs, which may include:

  • Canine arthritis signs — Some dogs are so stoic that their joints will have severely  deteriorated before they exhibit pain signs. Dogs’ common osteoarthritis signs include:
    • Stiffness, lameness, or limping after rest
    • Appetite loss
    • Weight gain
    • Inactivity
    • Reluctance to walk, run, or climb stairs
    • Inappropriate elimination
    • Difficulty posturing to urinate and defecate
    • Irritability
  • Feline arthritis signs — Because cats weigh less than dogs and tend to be less active, they exhibit arthritis signs differently. Unlike their canine counterparts, arthritic cats rarely limp, and the signs can be subtle, gradually progressing over time. The most common feline arthritis signs are behavior changes, including:
    • Taking stairs one at a time, or differently than in the past
    • No longer using favorite high perches
    • Difficulty grooming, with unkempt fur
    • Accidents outside the litter box
    • Decreased movement and activity
    • Decreased play
    • Increased irritability or hiding

How is arthritis diagnosed in pets?

Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch team diagnoses osteoarthritis in cats and dogs through a combination of methods. We take a detailed history of your pet’s behavior at home and perform a comprehensive physical exam. In addition, our team may take X-rays, blood tests, or other diagnostic imaging to rule out other underlying conditions. 

How is arthritis treated in pets?

While arthritis cannot be cured or reversed, an affected pet has myriad treatments available. To manage a pet’s pain, increase their mobility, and slow their joint degeneration, our team may recommend some or all of the following treatment options: 

  • Pain medication — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories ([NSAIDs] e.g., Rimadyl) can decrease your pet’s inflammation and pain.  
  • Injectable joint protectants — Monthly injectables that reduce arthritis pain are available and are ideal for pet owners who do not want to administer medications daily. 
  • Joint supplements — Supplements (e.g., chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids) may alleviate your pet’s joint pain and rebuild and maintain cartilage, which is essential for joint health.
  • Weight management — Helping an overweight pet lose weight relieves excess pressure on sore joints.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy can improve the joint range of motion and flexibility, helping reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Surgery — Surgery to remove damaged cartilage or repair damaged joints is sometimes an option to manage arthritis-related conditions.
  • Alternative therapies — Laser therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care can provide pain relief without pharmaceuticals. Ask your veterinarian if alternative therapies are right for your pet. 

Identifying arthritis signs early helps ensure your pet doesn’t suffer in silence. If you suspect your pet has arthritis, schedule an appointment with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch team.