It’s hard to watch our pets age, and while it’s normal for senior pets to slow down, it’s important to ensure they are not in pain. If your senior pet is struggling to keep up on walks, climbing the stairs, or simply getting up after resting, they could be suffering from a form of arthritis. Arthritis affects the joints, causing mobility problems and pain, and is a common condition in older pets, although younger pets are also at risk. Our Haskell Valley Veterinary Team presents the information you need to identify and manage arthritis in pets. 

What is arthritis in pets?

The most common arthritis type in pets is osteoarthritis (i.e.,  degenerative joint disease [DJD]). Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage, which is the tissue layer that acts as a cushion between the bones in a joint, is damaged. When the joint loses that cushion, inflammation and friction between the bones cause joint pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility, most commonly in the hips, elbows, lower back, knees and wrists

What causes arthritis in pets?

Arthritis commonly develops in older pets from general joint wear and tear, but other problems also cause arthritis, including:

  • Injuries — Ligament damage or broken bones can result in arthritis later in the pet’s life.
  • Hip dysplasia — A genetic joint deformity, hip dysplasia predisposes certain breeds (e.g., German shepherds) to arthritis. 
  • Joint under-development — Too little or too much exercise during puppyhood can lead to undeveloped joints and arthritis.
  • Inflammatory joint disease (IJD) — IJD is usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection or a hereditary defect in a pet’s immune system.

Are some pets more prone to developing arthritis?

While older pets most commonly have arthritic joints and bones—in the United States, one out of five adult dogs and nearly 90% of cats are affected—other factors can increase a pet’s arthritis risk at any age, including. 

  • Breed — Certain breeds are prone to developing arthritis when they are  young, including:
    • Springer spaniels
    • German shepherds
    • Golden retrievers 
    • Rottweilers 
    • Bernese mountain dogs 
  • Weight — Your pet’s weight also affects their risk. Excess weight puts stress on joints and negatively impacts the pet’s mobility, but you can reduce your pet’s risk by keeping them at their optimal weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise. 
  • Health history — A pet who has joint issues, such as hip dysplasia, or who has had a ligament injury or joint surgery is more likely to develop arthritis. 

What are arthritis signs in pets?

Any pet can develop arthritis, but disease signs may not be obvious in the early stages, and will be visible only when the disease has progressed and your pet is in severe pain. Signs once arthritis has advanced include:

  • Limping 
  • Mobility issues (e.g., refusing to go up stairs or to use a high-sided litter box)
  • Abnormal posture 
  • Increased irritability
  • Muscle atrophy 

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, do not hesitate to contact our clinic. The earlier a pet is diagnosed with arthritis, the sooner their pain can be managed. 

What treatment options are available for arthritic pets?

While arthritis in pets cannot be cured, pain management can help keep them comfortable. Work with our veterinarian and choose the best treatment option for your pet, which may include:

  • Weight management — Helping an overweight or obese pet lose weight can greatly reduce their arthritis pain because the extra pounds put excess pressure on their arthritic joints.
  • Exercise — Low-impact exercises (e.g., swimming, walking) can help keep your pet’s muscles and tendons strong. 
  • Pain-relieving medications — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and opioid derivatives can relieve arthritis pain. 
  • Joint supplements — Supplements that contain glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate can reduce joint inflammation and support joint cartilage health.
  • Surgery — Orthopedic surgery can repair or correct some conditions, such as a torn cranial cruciate ligament or hip dysplasia, that exacerbate arthritis. 
  • Alternative therapies — Physical therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and electromagnetic field therapy may help with pain management.

With treatment, most pets with arthritis can live a long, happy, and pain-free life. If your pet is in pain, schedule an appointment with our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team. We will perform a physical examination and X-rays to determine if your pet is suffering from arthritis and formulate a management plan that will alleviate their pain.