Arthritis in pets

Your dog is slow to get up in the morning, your cat doesn’t jump on the couch anymore, and perhaps your goat no longer runs through the fields. What could be going on?

It has been estimated that one out of every five dogs over one year of age experiences osteoarthritic pain. It is one of the most common issues that veterinarians face on a daily basis and it has a tremendous impact on the lives of those affected. From changing the ability to exercise and interact with family, to requiring protection from pain, it is important to recognize the signs of arthritis in our companion animals and begin to attend to them.

Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joints. Joints are present along the spine, where the spine connects to limbs and throughout the limbs from shoulders to front digits to the hips down to the rear digits. Any joint can be affected by arthritis. The most important thing we can do to slow down arthritis is to break the cycle of inflammation.

How does arthritis occur? Arthritis is secondary to some type of abnormality in a joint. This can be due to an underlying structural issue, including hip dysplasia, cruciate ligament rupture, patellar luxation or disk disease or due to a disease causing an inflammatory process affecting a structurally normal joint including lyme, immune-mediated disease, trauma, fractures or, very commonly, obesity.

When inflammation occurs in a joint, the normal joint components become impaired and unable to perform their usual functions. The joint begins to deteriorate and bony formation begins to try to stabilize the joint and limit movement. This bony growth not only decreases flexibility in the joint but also it contributes to the pain a pet feels.

As veterinarians and pet parents, our goal is primarily to prevent arthritis as much as possible, and if we cannot do that, then it is to keep the inflammatory cycle down to a minimum. The ways to achieve this range are mainly dependent on the following weapons in our arsenal:

  1. Maintaining mobility – walking, swimming, range of motion exercises
  2. Preventing obesity – perhaps the most important and simple thing to do by providing good and appropriate nutrition
  3. Anti-inflammatory – non-steroidal and steroidal inflammatory medications, natural supplements
  4. Supporting joint components – adequan, glucosamine-chondroitin, natural supplements
  5. Adjunctive therapy – acupuncture, laser therapy, rehabilitation/physical therapy, hydrotherapy

Recognizing arthritis in your pet as early as possible is critical to the success of your treatment program. Any changes in your pet’s behavior should be discussed with your veterinarian. Listed below are some of the symptoms or changes you may notice that could signal arthritis.

  • Decreased enthusiasm for walks or play
  • Slowing down or stopping on walks
  • Limping or favoring a limb
  • Trepidation getting into the car
  • Increased vocalization or growling
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Accidents in the house
  • Hesitancy about going up or down stairs
  • Pacing
  • Difficulty getting up after sleeping



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