Aging cats and dogs routinely suffer from arthritis, but this degenerative joint condition can also affect relatively young pets. Depending on the stage of your pet’s arthritis, you may not realize they have a problem, as most pets are incredible at hiding discomfort, pain, or injury. Many pet owners chalk up arthritis signs to standard aging changes, and their pet silently suffers. To ensure your furry pal doesn’t ache needlessly, learn how to recognize and manage arthritis in pets. We answer common pet arthritis questions to help bolster your knowledge.

Question: What is arthritis in pets?

Answer: In a healthy joint, cartilage protects the ends of the bones that rub together when your pet moves. However, whether because of trauma, infection, or regular aging changes, this cartilage can degenerate and wear away, leaving the bones unprotected. The bones grind together, and your pet’s anatomy changes as bony outgrowths develop and fluid builds up in the joint. When the joint loses its protective cartilage cushion and develops jagged bony spurs, arthritis can become incredibly painful and debilitating for pets.

Q: Are some pets more at risk for arthritis?

A: While all pets can develop arthritis, some pets are more likely to develop this joint condition, including those who:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have congenital orthopedic abnormalities
  • Suffer from other orthopedic conditions
  • Are extremely active

Typically, large-breed, overweight dogs are most likely to suffer from arthritis, although small breeds and cats can also develop joint disease. Working dogs, such as police canines, can develop arthritis because of the heavy wear and tear put on their joints, despite their lean body condition. To help minimize your pet’s arthritis risk, ensure they maintain an ideal body weight and participate in low-impact exercises.

Q: How can I tell if my pet has arthritis?

A: Your pet may not let you know they have arthritis until their disease is much advanced, so keep a close eye out for warning signs. You may notice:

  • Disinterest in exercise
  • Reluctance to climb stairs or jump on furniture
  • Trouble rising from lying down
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Yelping, whining, or whimpering when touched
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Morning stiffness that improves throughout the day
  • Swollen joints
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unusual posture when walking
  • Lameness in one or more limbs

While some slowing down can be attributed to old age, other arthritis indicators can help you differentiate. 

Q: How will my primary care veterinarian determine if my pet has arthritis?

A: Primary care veterinarians often detect arthritis during a pet’s wellness exam by noticing a gait abnormality, muscle mass loss, or a decreased range of motion in the affected limb. The pet owner may comment that their pet is slowing down and doesn’t seem to want to play or exercise as much, or has stiffness in the morning that wears off throughout the day. Based on these arthritis signs, your primary care veterinarian will likely recommend X-rays to determine disease severity, and to check for other potential issues. X-rays will show increased fluid in the joint, soft tissue swelling around the joint, bony spur formation, hardening and thickening of bone beneath the cartilage, and sometimes a narrowed joint space.

Q: How can I keep my pet comfortable and active with arthritis?

A: The best way to keep your arthritic pet comfortable is using a multimodal treatment plan. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), pain medication, alternative therapies, supplements, and environmental modifications can help ensure your furry pal has a good quality of life for much longer than if you used pain medication alone. Since arthritis is a progressively degenerative condition, your pet’s treatment plan will change as their disease changes. In the initial stages, joint supplements and weight management may keep them comfortable, but as they age, more aggressive measures will be necessary. Acupuncture, laser therapy, chiropractic, and hydrotherapy are excellent alternative treatments for arthritic pets. At home, you can place non-slip rugs on slick surfaces, purchase an orthopedic bed, block off stairways, place ramps to furniture, and use a harness to help your pet stand and walk. Many treatment options are available for pets with arthritis, so speak to your primary care veterinarian about the best treatment plan for your four-legged friend.

If your furry pal’s arthritis pain gets the better of them late at night or during the weekend when your family veterinarian is unavailable, turn to your animal emergency hospital in Spokane. Our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team is standing by to care for your pet during an emergency—give us a call.