Arthritis comes on gradually, and you may miss the early signs. You may first notice your pet is slowing downshe doesn’t want to walk as far anymore, or chase the ball as much. Then she has difficulty walking on your hardwood floors or climbing up and down the steps when she goes outside. She may have osteoarthritis, a treatable condition that affects pets (and people) as they get older. Learn the signs of arthritis and the treatment options so you can recognize the problem early, before your pet becomes lame or incapacitated.

What causes arthritis in pets?

Arthritis is a condition caused by chronic inflammation and degenerative change in the  joints. Most pets will suffer with some degree of arthritis, which can be degenerative, such as an old ligament injury that becomes unstable and arthritic over time, or a natural condition that develops with age. The following variables can increase the risk and severity of arthritis:

  • Age
  • Size
  • Obesity
  • Conformation
  • Presence of hip or elbow dysplasia, or other congenital issues
  • Injury
  • Activity level (for example, a dog who often runs on hard surfaces)
  • An immune reaction, such as rheumatoid arthritis, in rare cases

How do I know if my pet has arthritis?

Your dog may exhibit signs, such as less enthusiasm for her morning run or playing in the park, or hesitancy to run and jump for a ball, that she has not shown before. Cats may stop jumping onto a high perch, or start climbing down instead of jumping. As the arthritis progresses and the joint damage becomes more severe, you may notice your pet lifting her paw, walking with a strange gait, or limping frequently. The pain may make some pets irritable and reluctant to be petted or touched. Some pets also may lick or chew a joint, even to the point of hair loss. If you suspect your pet has arthritis, schedule an appointment with our office. We can provide treatment that can improve her quality of life and prevent future injury.

How is arthritis diagnosed in pets?

Our team can easily diagnose arthritis with a physical exam that includes palpation and X-rays that will show the extent of arthritic changes in the affected joint(s). Other imaging may be necessary for complicated or advanced cases, but arthritis can usually be diagnosed quickly.

What treatments are available for arthritic pets?

Arthritis cannot be cured, but it usually can be managed effectively and economically. Your veterinarian may first prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) or a steroid, which must always be administered separately and never together. Your veterinarian may also prescribe gabapentin for your pet’s chronic pain, either as a supplement to the NSAID or alone if your pet cannot tolerate NSAIDs. Be aware that NSAIDs for pets are not the same formulation as NSAIDS for humans, and giving your pet any human medication without your veterinarian’s direct authorization is never appropriate.

If your pet has advanced or complicated arthritis, we may recommend surgery, including joint fusion, arthroscopic cleaning of a joint, cartilage grafts, or partial or full joint replacement. Ultrasound-guided injections are a minimally invasive option for some pets.

Your veterinarian may also recommend alternative, non-medication treatments, such as joint health supplements or a prescription diet, to augment the prescribed medications. A physical therapist can help some pets recover joint usage and range of motion, or regain muscle. Certified therapists also may recommend exercises and alternative treatments, such as therapeutic lasers, hydrotherapy, or acupuncture.

Can I prevent my pet from getting arthritis?

Arthritis cannot be prevented in pets, but the natural joint degeneration can be delayed by providing regular exercise, maintaining an appropriate weight, and feeding a healthy diet. As your pet ages, you can make small changes around your home that will keep her comfortable, including raised food dishes, soft bedding, ramps to high surfaces like beds or couches, and non-slip surfaces.

Knowing the signs of arthritis and treatments available can help ensure that you and your furry companion enjoy many pain-free years together. If you suspect your dog or cat may have arthritis, contact our hospital for an appointment.