Arthritis in Dogs & Cats

Arthritis is a progressive inflammatory and degenerative disease of the joints.  It can occur in any joint, including the spine and jaw.  Signs of arthritis include painful or stiff joint movement, joint swelling and a grating sensation during joint movement.  It is the most common cause of chronic pain.

Causes of arthritis include degeneration from aging, joint instability (hip dysplasia, ruptured cruciate ligaments, luxating patellas), deformities of the skeleton (elbow dysplasia), infection, injury, blood diseases, and immune-mediated diseases.  It is worsened by obesity.  Polyarthritis is inflammation of several joints at the same time. It is often associated with complex internal diseases.

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

Arthritis impacts both cats and dogs, but sometimes the location of arthritis varies between the two species. Among dogs, arthritis mostly affects the hips, elbows, shoulders, knees, wrists, ankles, and spine. Arthritis among cats most affects the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and ankles.

If your older pet is gradually slowing down, becoming less active or moving awkwardly, that could be an indicator of arthritis instead of just “old age.” That’s especially true if your pet has experienced an injury at some point in their life.  Larger dogs tend to get arthritis at an earlier age.

Common symptoms of arthritis in dogs and cats include:

  • Limping or favoring one side of the body or leg
  • Difficulty moving, stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Disinterest in exercise
  • Failure to use the litterbox
  • Aversion to handling
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Swelling in the joints
  • Licking or biting affected area
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Seeming to be in pain

It can be difficult to assess pain because pets do not cry until pain is severe.  It is more helpful to evaluate disabilities than pain.  Radiographs (x-rays) and laboratory tests may be necessary to determine the type and extent of the arthritis.

Arthritis can be painful and debilitating, and the pain will increase as the condition progresses. Be sure to follow up with your veterinarian or specialist if you notice any changes in how your pet behaves or is able to move.

Managing Arthritis

Arthritis is usually a controllable rather than a curable disease.  Therapy is designed to minimize discomfort and delay or prevent progression of disease.  There are multiple approaches to managing arthritis, and usually the best solution is a combination of things.

Managing your pet’s weight is important.  A healthy body weight is the best way to prevent and manage arthritis.  Excess weight increases stress on the joints and muscles. If your pet is obese, your veterinarian will want your pet to lose weight. Daily, low-impact activities, such as walking and swimming, will not only help your pet with losing some pounds but can also improve joint mobility, muscle mass, and exercise tolerance.

Follow-up examinations during treatment are necessary to evaluate the response to therapy.  Your veterinarian may need to do periodic physical examinations every 1-4 months to monitor your pet’s response to therapy and the progression of the disease. In addition, if your pet is on prescription medications, blood tests including complete blood counts and chemistry profiles, should be done every 6-12 months to ensure there are no side effects impacting the liver or kidneys.

With therapy and careful monitoring, arthritis can be managed in many dogs and cats, resulting in a good quality of life that you and your pet will appreciate.