As we age, most of us tend to suffer from the aches and pains associated with arthritis—including dogs and cats. However, pets are much better at hiding discomfort, and they keep their moans and groans to themselves, so it’s up to dedicated pet owners to spot the pain commonly seen with osteoarthritis. With early detection and intervention, you can ensure your best friend remains comfortable, and can continue to enjoy their favorite activities.  

What is arthritis in pets?

Like people, pets experience arthritis, and suffer from painful joint inflammation caused by degenerative joint disease. Arthritis occurs when an unstable joint causes the bones to move abnormally, eroding the protective cartilage that cushions the joint. As the cartilage is destroyed, the bones rub on each other, leading to chronic inflammation and pain. 

What are arthritis signs in pets?

Pets are gifted at hiding any signs of pain, weakness, or discomfort, so detecting arthritis in your furry pal can be difficult, and you may not automatically link changes you see to arthritis pain. Possible signs in pets include:

  • Limping or lameness
  • Decreased activity
  • Reluctance to participate in normal activities
  • Inability to jump into the car, or onto furniture
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability when handled or petted
  • Licking, biting, or chewing at painful body areas
  • Inappropriate elimination

While limping or lameness are easily identified, not all pets with arthritis will limp. Cats in particular can hide lameness well, and many pet owners chalk up their pet’s stiff gait in the morning to simple old-age changes. Pets with arthritis often are slow to get moving when they first get up, but then warm up out of their discomfort, leading owners to think their furry pal is fine. Another common issue that pet owners may not link to joint disease is inappropriate elimination. Although pets eliminate in the house, or outside the litter box, for a variety of reasons, older pets commonly do so because of the painful posturing required. Climbing over the sides of a litter box may be too painful for cats, while dogs may find squatting difficult, and instead urinate indoors while lying down. Any change in your pet’s typical activities may be caused by arthritis pain, especially as they age. 

What are the management options for arthritis in pets?

The best way to keep your arthritic pet comfortable is a multimodal treatment plan that uses a variety of pain-relieving and joint-supporting methods. 

  • Veterinary options for managing arthritis pain, paired with at-home care, can help give your pet the boost they need to remain comfortable, and may include:
    • Pain medications — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are a common choice for pain relief for pets with arthritis. These medications work by reducing chronic inflammation, but can potentially cause organ-related side effects with long-term use.
    • Joint supplements — Glucosamine and chondroitin are two common joint supplements designed to help preserve remaining cartilage, and strengthen joints. Joint supplements work best when administered during the early disease stages, or as a prophylactic treatment before arthritis appears.
    • Alternative therapies — Pets with arthritis can benefit from a wide range of pain- and inflammation-reducing alternative therapies, including acupuncture, laser therapy, hydrotherapy, massage, chiropractic, physical rehabilitation, platelet-rich plasma therapy, and others.

  • At-home options for managing arthritis pain are an essential part of your pet’s multimodal treatment plan, and may include:
    • Mobility aids — Large- and giant-breed dogs may find it difficult to get their hind legs under them when rising, and can benefit from slings, braces, and other mobility aids to help them stand and walk. 
    • Home improvements — Look for ways to make your home more accessible for pets who can no longer jump without pain. Create ramps up to favorite resting areas on furniture or perches, or to help your pet avoid stairs. Place carpet runners on slick floors to offer traction. Position your pet’s food, water, and bed in one convenient location, ideally on the floor where your family spends most of their time, to include your furry pal.
    • Diet plan — Keeping your pet lean is critical for reducing joint disease. Excess weight contributes to overall inflammation, in addition to increased pressure on already taxed joints. Many therapeutic diets offer weight loss and mobility benefits.
    • Low-impact exercise — Encouraging your pet to exercise daily helps maintain important muscle mass, but avoid intense activities, such as fetch, tug of war, or running on pavement. Instead, choose low-impact activities, like swimming or gentle walks. 

With proper management, you can help stave off your pet’s arthritis pain by supporting the remaining joint cartilage. An early diagnosis and dedicated treatment protocol are your best tools for keeping your furry pal comfortable and active well into their golden years. 

Arthritis is a progressive, degenerative condition whose diagnosis and management is often best handled by your family veterinarian. But, if you notice your pet is lame or limping after normal business hours, the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team can help ease their arthritis pain. We’re always here for the health and happiness of your best friend—give us a call.