Arthritis in Pets

We’ve all seen someone who requires the assistance of a wheelchair, cane, or walker to compensate for arthritic joints. As part of aging, our joints tend to give out over time, developing scar tissue, swelling and inflammation as cartilage wears away and protective fluid in our joints breaks down. Our joints become stiff and painful and our ability to get around becomes a bit more limited without the use of mobility aids.

While arthritis is less common in cats than dogs, it occurs in both species, especially when they get older. In fact, due to the pet obesity epidemic in our country coupled with the fact that pets are, fortunately, living longer and longer, there are more arthritic pets than ever. However, since many of our pets are “silent sufferers”, you won’t get many clues, and you may not pick up on the early physical signs.  

Arthritis is the term used to refer to inflammation of the joints. There are various types of arthritis and different conditions that lead to arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type found in pets. It is also referred to as degenerative joint disease or just degenerative arthritis. The ends of the bones and the cartilage that covers them have worn away. Osteoarthritis can result from stress to a particular joint, dislocations or fractures, or simply the wear and tear that comes with aging.


The signs that your pet may have arthritis begin in very subtle ways. The dog that used to sleep with you every night is no longer there.  The favorite window where your cat did most of his bird watching has been abandoned. Your pet sits in front of the sofa and ponders for quite some time whether to jump up beside you or not.

Other signs of arthritis include your pet standing up slowly after lying down, acting more irritable, grooming himself less, and going up and down stairs or taking walks at a much slower pace. As arthritis worsens, you might even notice limping or changes in the way your pet walks.


Your veterinarian will do a complete physical exam of your pet. He may be able to detect swollen joints and a loss of muscle mass on legs that are arthritic. For a definite diagnosis, however, X-rays of the joints will be needed.  There are very specific changes in the joints that he will be looking for that will confirm a diagnosis of arthritis.  


Once it’s decided your pet has arthritis, your veterinarian will usually prescribe pain medicine to help your pet feel better. If your pet is overweight, the best thing you can do is put him on a diet. The excess weight puts more pressure on the joints and makes the situation worse. Some pets won’t need pain medicine after they lose weight.

Supplements and Alternative Pain Therapies

The next thing you want to do is try to slow it down. Remember arthritis is progressive. Pain medicine is helpful, but it doesn’t fix arthritis. It is only making your pet more comfortable. Pain medicines can have side effects so the less you use, the better. However, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, laser therapy, and water or physical therapy can be effective pain mainagement tools that can actually help improve your pet’s condition instead of just masking the pain.


Supplements will often reduce the need for drugs. They slow down the destruction of the cartilage as well as help to rebuild it. Glucosamine and chondroitin are two of the most common supplements and have been studied extensively. 

Other steps

  • Soft bedding or an orthopedic bed
  • Food and water dishes within easy reach
  • A litter box with a shallow entrance on every floor of the house
  • Steps or ramps to get onto higher areas
  • Heated beds or pads
  • Grooming your pet regularly


Before It Starts

Often the best thing you can do is help your pet before arthritis is an obvious problem. Regular exercise, keeping your pet at a normal weight and providing joint supplements may prevent it or slow it down.

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