Arthritis is a common health condition that many pets develop as they age, although arthritis can affect pets of all ages. Left untreated, this painful, degenerative joint condition can seriously interfere with your pet’s quality of life, so the sooner you can identify the signs, the sooner you can alleviate your pet’s pain. If your pet is limping, or struggling to jump on the couch or climb the stairs, arthritis may be to blame. Use our Southwest Vet team’s guide to arthritis to learn how to support your arthritic pet. 

What causes arthritis in pets?

Like people, animals have cartilage that cushions the bones and allows joints to move smoothly through their full range of motion. In arthritic joints, the cartilage has deteriorated because of repetitive stress, trauma, disease, or normal wear and tear. The bones begin rubbing together, and their surfaces become rough, causing pain and inflammation as they grind against each other. Arthritis is most frequently seen in the hip, elbow, knee, wrist, and lower back, but can occur in any joint. 

What is my pet’s risk of developing arthritis?

Many factors and conditions can increase your pet’s arthritis risk, including:

  • Senior pets — As pets age, the cartilage erodes and weakens, leading to inflammation and pain. 
  • Pets with joint conditions — Conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or luxating patellas can increase arthritis risk. 
  • Pets with a previous injury — An earlier joint fracture or rupture of the knee’s cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) can weaken a pet’s joints and increase their risk. 
  • Overweight pets — Extra weight puts pressure on the joints and damages the cartilage. In addition to arthritis, obesity can cause serious health conditions, such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and heart problems.
  • Certain pet breeds — Large- and giant-breed pets, as well as breeds with long bodies and short legs, have a higher arthritis risk. 

What are arthritis signs in pets?

Arthritis signs tend to be subtle and behavioral, and may include the following:

  • Limping or lameness
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty getting up after lying down
  • Reluctance to use stairs or jump on furniture
  • Lethargy
  • Pain when touched
  • Increased irritability
  • Licking, chewing, or biting at the affected area
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Difficulty posturing to urinate or defecate

Pet owners sometimes miss these behavior changes, or mistakenly dismiss them as normal aging. However, if you see these signs in your pet, err on the side of caution, and consult with your veterinarian to determine the cause and relieve your pet’s pain. 

How is arthritis diagnosed in pets?

To diagnose arthritis, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination on your pet, check the joint areas for pain, and perhaps recommend blood work to rule out other conditions that could be causing stiffness and decreased mobility. Your veterinarian may take X-rays to assess your pet’s soft tissue structures (e.g., ligaments, menisci) and joint bone changes. These diagnostic tests can reveal the severity of the affected joints and guide your pet’s treatment plan.

Can my pet’s arthritis be cured?

Arthritis has no cure, but many treatments can ease your pet’s discomfort and slow disease progression.

  • Pain medication — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g., Rimadyl) can decrease your pet’s inflammation and pain.  
  • Joint supplements — Supplements (e.g., chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids) may alleviate your pet’s joint pain and rebuild and maintain cartilage, which is essential for healthy joints.
  • Weight management — Helping an overweight pet lose weight relieves excess pressure on sore joints.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy can improve the joint range of motion and flexibility, and help to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Surgery — Surgery to remove damaged cartilage or repair damaged joints is sometimes an option to manage arthritis-related conditions.
  • Alternative therapies — Laser therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care can provide non-pharmaceutical pain relief. Ask your veterinarian if alternative therapies are right for your pet.

Although arthritis is a progressive, painful disease, you can help your pet stay active, healthy, and happy by identifying the problem, and beginning appropriate management early. If your pet is displaying possible arthritis signs, contact our Southwest Vet team to schedule an appointment, so we can identify the problem and alleviate their pain as quickly as possible.