Does Your Pet Have Arthritis?

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is He is the co-author of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound (

As pets get older, they often move around less. Because it is often overlooked, arthritis has been called a “silent epidemic.” How can you tell if your pet has arthritis?

In people, arthritis can just "show up" with age. In pets, it is most often the result of another condition or an injury. Many dog owners have heard of hip dysplasia, a common form of hip arthritis. Arthritis can affect any joint, most commonly hips, knees and elbows. A tear of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) will lead to arthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is an ongoing condition that damages cartilage. This leads to pain, swelling and inflammation (irritation) in one or several joints. The end-result is lack of range of motion, muscle loss, decreased mobility and lameness.

Signs of arthritis in pets include reluctance to walk or jump (e.g. onto a favorite couch, into the car or on your kitchen counter), difficulty doing stairs or playing a favorite game, or trouble getting up. Limping is very common. Crying out in pain may be noticed. Some vague signs can also be noticed, such as lack of appetite and restlessness. In cats, a classic but often ignored sign is a decrease in grooming.

The diagnosis of arthritis starts with a thorough physical and orthopedic exam by your family vet. This includes an exam awake to sort things out. For example, some medical and neurological conditions can make your pet slow down, but they have nothing to do with arthritis. Many other conditions need to be ruled out by your vet. After blood work is performed, another exam and X-rays under sedation or anesthesia may be recommended. More advanced testing, performed by your family vet or a surgeon, includes taking a fluid sample from the joint with a syringe and needle (a "joint tap"). The fluid can then be sent to the lab for analysis.

Once arthritis is actually proven, there are multiple options to help your pet, which you can discuss with your family vet.

There are other rare forms of arthritis due to ticks, infections or immune-mediated diseases. Even though the process can be difficult, only a vet (i.e. not your neighbor - no offense) can help reach an accurate diagnosis and design an appropriate treatment. Putting a pet on long-term pain killers or anti-inflammatory drugs without knowing for sure whether or not arthritis is the problem is not desirable. An accurate diagnosis is the first step.

Most of the time, with the appropriate treatment, pets with arthritis can be helped and lead a happy, comfortable life for many years.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Arthritis in Dogs and Cats: Your Guide to Joint Pain in Pets

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Our pets’ joints take a beating. With all the running, jumping and pouncing they do, it’s no wonder sometimes our furry friends start to experience pain in their limbs. What are the causes of joint pain? What are some common treatments? Here’s your guide to arthritis in dogs and cats!

Arthritis In Pets

Cartilage is a slippery substance which acts as a buffer or “cushion” between the bones in a joint. It allows the bones to move over or around each other without pain. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage within a joint becomes damaged. Eventually an arthritic joint becomes inflamed and painful. There are over 100 different types of arthritis recognised in humans. In pets, the most common form is osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease. Other types include rheumatoid arthritis and septic arthritis which is caused by joint infection.

Arthritis commonly affects older and middle-aged pets. However, the condition is not limited to these age groups and younger animals can also suffer from the disease. When arthritis eventually causes changes in the joint which result in pain, this often becomes apparent by changes in the animal’s behavior – the primary symptoms of the disease. Because arthritis commonly develops with age, pet owners sometimes confuse changes in their animal’s behavior as normal age-related changes (such as a decrease in play), whereas in fact, the animal might be suffering quite severe arthritic pain.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is essentially caused by daily wear-and-tear of the joint, but can also occur as a result of injury. Osteoarthritis begins as a disruption of the cartilage ultimately, this causes the bones in the joint to erode into each other. The condition may start with minor pain during your pet’s activity, but can develop into continuous chronic pain which might even occur when the animal is resting. Osteoarthritis typically affects the weight-bearing joints, but can affect both large and small joints of the body. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis is most commonly a disease of elderly pets.
Osteoarthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, cannot be cured, but the condition can be prevented from worsening. Physiotherapy to strengthen muscles and joints can be helpful. Pain medications may be required. For some pets, weight-loss can reduce the stress on the joints thereby reducing the development of osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s own immune system starts to attack body tissues. The attack is quite general and affects not only the joint but also many other parts of the body. This condition causes damage to the joint lining and cartilage. Eventually, this results in erosion of the opposing bones of the joint. Drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis include corticosteroids.

Symptoms of arthritis may not be particularly obvious in the early stages of the disease, but become apparent as pain in the joint increases. Symptoms may be particularly difficult to notice in cats as they tend to hide signs of injury or weakness.

An animal with arthritis may favor one or more of their limbs, or have a distinct limp. The severity and type of limp will depend on the joint/s that are affected. Limping is often more pronounced immediately after the animal wakes up from sleeping, and then becomes less pronounced as the animal begins moving about.

Reduced mobility
Because of the pain caused by arthritis, affected animals may become reluctant to move in ways with which they previously had no difficulty. For instance, arthritic cats might stop jumping up to high areas for sleeping, or may stop using litter trays with high sides. Dogs may not be able to sit so easily, jump in and out of cars, or get up and down stairs.

Abnormal posture
Arthritis can also affect various parts of the spine. This often results in an abnormal posture with a hunched back, a sore neck, or lameness in one or both hind legs.

Reduced activity
Animals with arthritis become tired more easily. For dogs, walks may become shorter and your pet may spend more time sleeping or resting.

Abnormal grooming
Pets with arthritis often lick, chew or bite the painful body areas. If this becomes severe, it may cause baldness over the affected area, or inflamed skin. Conversely, your pet may reduce its grooming because the movements are painful.

Changes in temperament
As with any condition that causes pain, your pet may become irritable if arthritis develops – they may bite, snap or vocalize when handled. It may be necessary to revise your petting or handling so that it does not cause pain.

Muscle atrophy
Muscle atrophy is a decrease in the mass of muscles. This decrease can be partial or a complete wasting away. Arthritic pets can develop muscle atrophy due to inactivity. Atrophied muscles in the legs will give your pet the appearance of having legs thinner than usual.


Some cat breeds are more susceptible to arthritis than others. Hip dysplasia (abnormal development of the hip joints) is seen especially in Maine Coon, Persians, Siamese and other breeds. Patella luxation (dislocation of the knee cap) is more common in Abyssinian and Devon Rex breeds. In dogs, the larger breeds such as Labrador, Retriever, German Shepard and Alaskan Malamute are all more susceptible to hip dysplasia than other breeds.

Injury or trauma
Fractures, dislocations and other joint injuries can cause abnormal joint conformation and irregular future development. This can result in secondary osteoarthritis.

There is no evidence that obesity causes arthritis, however, it can make an existing condition worse.

Arthritis affects one in every five adult dogs in the U.S. It is one of the most common sources of chronic pain that veterinarians treat. In dogs, the joints most commonly affected by arthritis are:

• hips
• elbow
• shoulder
• knee (stifle)
• wrist (carpus)
• ankle (hock)
• spine (intervertebral joints)

A study in 2002 concluded that 90% of cats over 12 years of age had evidence of degenerative joint disease. In cats, the joints most commonly affected by arthritis are:

• shoulder
• hips
• elbow
• knee
• ankle (tarsi)

A veterinarian will be able to diagnose whether your pet has arthritis. They will perform a physical examination on your pet and may take x-rays. Occasionally, it might be necessary to take blood or joint-fluid samples to investigate possible joint infections.

Although arthritis cannot be cured, there are treatments available that can ease the pain for your pet.
The solution to keeping arthritic pets comfortable is not to limit their activity but to manage their pain. Initially, treatment for pain may need to be aggressive, especially if the pet has been inactive for a long time. As the benefits of exercise develop, the need for pain relievers often decreases.

Exercise is important for treating arthritis as it keeps strength in the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the joints. If these supportive tissues become weak or loose, they can worsen arthritis. Exercise stimulates the production of joint-fluid which lubricates the joint and nourishes the cartilage. Exercise also keeps pets from becoming obese extra weight increases the loading on joints making movement even more painful.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and opioid derivatives can be used in the treatment of arthritis.

Several diets or dietary supplements are available for pets with arthritis. These contain essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation, and glycosaminoglycans, the ‘building blocks’ of cartilage.

Additional treatments
Acupuncture and low-level laser therapy have also been used in the treatment of arthritis in pets.

Pet Arthritis Treatment

If your dog or cat shows signs of arthritis early treatment is key. The most common signs can include limping, favoring a limb, inability to rise, reluctance to jump or climb stairs and of course pain. There are several ways to treat and decrease the progression of pet arthritis. Below are treatment tips:

Medical Treatment

Veterinarians will likely prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help control inflammation and reduce the pain. However, long term use of NSAIDs can cause renal and gastrointestinal problems. Use this pet medication in moderation and as prescribed.

Physical Therapy & Alternative Medicine Treatments

Physical therapy is becoming more common in veterinary medicine. This helps loosen up their joints and relieve stiffness. With the right treatment plan physical therapy can be effective. In addition, alternative medicine treatments can be effective as well. Laser therapy, acupuncture electro stimulation and therapeutic ultra-sonography are some examples of alternative treatment options.

Home Comfort

Create a comfortable living environment for your dog or cat that has arthritis. If you have hardwood floors or tile, place non-slip rugs around your home to help your pet move around and also to prevent your pet from falling. Also, give your pet a nice cushioned place to sleep such as an orthopedic bed. Their arthritis can worsen if they sleep on hard surfaces that put excessive pressure on their joints as they lay down.

Another comfort remedy to treat arthritis in your pet is to raise their food bowl off the ground. It can be painful for your dog or cat to bend their head down to eat because the arthritis hurts in their back or neck.

Finally, help your pet move around. Ramps and stairs placed around your home will help them move up and down from high places. What used to be an easy walk or jump is no longer the case.

Pain Management

Seeing your pet in pain is saddening and we wish we could take it away somehow. Well, there is a way for dogs that is safe and effective at relieving joint pain associated with arthritis. Just like humans who have aspirin to relieve pain, there is a dog aspirin called Arthrin. Not only does it offer pain relief, but it reduces inflammation as well. It will not upset your dog's stomach either. This dog pain reliever will make them feel better and ready to move.

Pet owners can help their dog or cat fight against arthritis. It is always up to the pet owner to recognize, prevent and treat this common disease among pets. Dogs or cats have a hard time letting us know what is bothering them, so following this guide is key to raising a happy pet.

Treating Pets with Arthritis

If you suspect your senior pet has arthritis, your veterinarian will complete an exam and take x-rays. A variety of treatments will be available to manage pain and reduce inflammation. Treatment options include medication, cortisone or steroids, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Your veterinarian may also recommend changes to diet and exercise regime as well as supplements and additives such as glucosamine, chondroitin, antioxidants and the omega-3 fatty acid. Each pet will respond different to treatment and your veterinarian will advise you of possible side effects as well.

Of course, as pets get older, their bodies naturally become weaker which may result in your senior pet being less physically active then before. As with all aspects of your pet’s health, be proactive and maintain a lifestyle that promotes good habits and health. Encourage your senior pet to exercise with regular walks and appropriate play to stay flexible and hopefully maintain muscle. Senior pets may need more time to get going in the mornings after a long period of rest, so be patient and encourage your dog to stretch and take it easy. Your veterinarian can recommend exercises or massage to help your senior pet’s joints and muscles which can be a fun activity for you to share. With proper diet, exercise and care, senior pets can remain healthy, happy and active for many years.

What are the most common forms of arthritis seen in cats and dogs?

There are three forms of arthritis that are most commonly seen in pets: osteoarthritis, septic arthritis and immune-mediated arthritis, Saito says.

This is the most common form seen in pets and is due to damage to the joint tissue.

“The primary cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, but the condition can be the result of a variety of causes, including trauma, genetics or other conditions that lead to abnormal wear of the joint,” Saito says. “This can include joint dislocation, torn knee ligament, hip dysplasia and luxating patella.”

All of these causes can spell pain and could explain your pet’s inability to do things like he or she used to.

This type of arthritis is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection of the joint, Saito says. Inflammation will cause pain in the joint.

3. Immune-mediated arthritis

This is due to the pet’s own immune system invading the joints and causing joint inflammation, Saito says, and for some pets, the underlying cause of this can be unknown.

Watch the video: Arthritis in Pets Explained (June 2021).