Advances in veterinary medicine allow pets to live longer, putting them at higher risk for conditions such as arthritis. Young pets also can be affected by this painful condition, and many pets suffer from undiagnosed arthritis. Our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team loves to see pets live their best life possible, which may not happen if they silently suffer from this condition. With that goal in mind, we share information to help  you determine if your pet is affected, and how the condition can be managed to help improve your pet’s quality of life.

Arthritis in pets

Arthritis is a general term that means joint inflammation, and osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is the most common arthritis type. In a healthy joint, cartilage cushions the joint during movement to allow for a smooth range of motion. DJD causes this cartilage to deteriorate, resulting in pain, inflammation, and decreased range of motion. DJD is prevalent in pets. About one in five dogs experiences joint abnormalities in their lifetime, and research indicates approximately 60% of dogs more than 8 years old develop arthritis as they continue to age. In cats, studies have demonstrated that 90% of cats over 12 years of age have radiographic evidence of arthritis. While arthritis is common in pets, the condition often goes undiagnosed because pets are excellent at hiding their pain. Factors that increase a pet’s risk include:

  • Age — Wear and tear on joints occurs as pets get older.
  • Developmental orthopedic diseases — Diseases, such as hip dysplasia, patellar luxation, shoulder osteochondritis dissecans, and elbow dysplasia, predispose pets to DJD.
  • Injury — A joint injury, such as a fracture or soft tissue damage, increases a pet’s risk of DJD.
  • Environmental factors — Early nutrition practices and exercise levels can influence a pet’s risk of DJD.
  • Obesity — Excess weight can place extra strain on joints, leading to arthritis, and fat cells produce chronic inflammation throughout the body, which also affects a pet’s joints.

Arthritis signs in pets

Limping is the most obvious arthritis sign, but many pets don’t favor a limb until their condition is advanced. Other potential signs include:

  • Decrease in activity — Your pet may not seem as excited about playing their favorite game of fetch, or they may be less enthusiastic about going for a walk. In addition, they may sleep more throughout the day.
  • Changes in body position — When sitting or standing, your pet may shift their weight frequently, and they may rest in abnormal positions.
  • Overall stiffness — Your pet may seem stiff, especially when waking from a nap.
  • Reluctance to jump or climb stairs — Your pet may avoid jumping on furniture, and they may be reluctant to climb stairs.
  • Irritability — Your pet may exhibit irritability, especially when being picked up or petted.
  • Inappropriate litter box habits Cats may stop using their litter box if the sides are too high for them to navigate comfortably.

Diagnosing arthritis in pets

Diagnosing arthritis in pets is a team effort, involving the pet owner and the veterinarian. The best way to detect arthritis in the early stages is to bring your pet in for regular wellness visits so your veterinarian can assess and monitor your pet’s gait and joint flexibility. If your pet is exhibiting signs indicating they may be suffering from arthritis, your veterinary team will ask you questions to determine how significantly their condition affects their daily life, and will take X-rays to visually assess the joint. Using this information, they will determine the best treatment plan for your pet.

Treating arthritis in pets

Managing arthritis in pets involves a multimodal approach to decrease their pain and improve their quality of life. These techniques include:

  • Environmental management — Ensure your pet has a comfortable resting spot, their food and water bowls are easily accessible (i.e., they don’t have to jump on a high surface), and your cat’s litter box has low sides so they can go in and out easily.
  • Weight management — Obesity is a significant problem in pets, and if your pet is overweight, the first step to help alleviate their arthritis pain is to put them on a safe weight loss plan.
  • Daily exercise — Low-impact exercise helps improve mobility in arthritic pets.
  • Pharmaceuticals — Pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), are frequently used to manage arthritic pets.
  • Joint supplements — Joint supplements and diets containing omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin may be prescribed.
  • Joint injections — Medications can be injected directly into your pet’s joint to help decrease inflammation and pain.
  • Surgery Surgery may be recommended in some cases, depending on your pet’s response to treatment and which joint is affected.

Preventing arthritis in pets

Not all arthritis cases can be prevented, but you can take steps to decrease your pet’s risk. These include:

  • Feed your pet appropriately — Feed your young pet a nutritionally complete diet that promotes a slow, steady growth rate to ensure any potential developmental orthopedic diseases aren’t exacerbated by rapid growth.
  • Keep your pet at a healthy weight — Calculate your pet’s daily energy requirements, and feed them an appropriate amount to keep them at a healthy weight.
  • Exercise your pet daily — Exercise your pet at an appropriate intensity level to keep their muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments strong. All pets are different, so ask your veterinary professionals what intensity level is best for your pet.

Arthritis is a painful condition, but when diagnosed in the early stages, it can be managed to improve your pet’s quality of life. If you are concerned your pet may have arthritis, contact our Fear Free team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital so we can determine how best to alleviate their suffering.