Arthritis is one of the most common, painful conditions in adult and senior pets, although younger pets are also affected. Despite being so common, arthritis can be difficult to detect and is often mistakenly attributed to normal aging. Arthritis cannot be reversed or cured, but can be managed. The earlier our University Veterinary Hospital team detects the problem, the sooner we can develop a plan that will relieve your pet’s suffering and restore their quality of life, so we want to help you to learn more about arthritis causes, signs, and treatment. 

Arthritis causes in pets

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes painful joint inflammation. Pets can develop various arthritis types, with osteoarthritis the most common. In a healthy pet, cartilage lines the joints and acts as a cushion between bones. Osteoarthritis occurs when the normal cushioning cartilage in the joint degenerates and wears off, causing inflammation, pain, and ongoing damage to the joint and surrounding structures. Arthritis can be caused by normal age-related wear and tear, as well as the following conditions:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Cruciate ligament rupture 
  • Luxating patellas
  • Bone fracture or trauma 
  • Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
  • Obesity
  • Repetitious high-impact stress on the joints
  • Genetic predisposition 

Arthritis signs in pets

Initial arthritis signs in pets are often subtle but worsen slowly. As the disease progresses and their pain increases, your pet may change their behavior and their signs will become more evident. Arthritis signs in pets can include:

  • Disinterest in exercise
  • Reluctance to climb stairs or jump on furniture
  • Trouble rising after 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
  • Inappetence
  • Unusual posture when walking
  • Lameness in one or more limbs

Arthritis diagnosis in pets

Diagnostics, such as a physical examination, imaging, and laboratory tests are essential when assessing and diagnosing arthritis in pets. Arthritis evaluation begins with a thorough physical exam to determine your pet’s source of pain, followed by X-rays of painful areas to look for joint deterioration and abnormal bone development. Your veterinarian will also request your input about your pet’s activity level, behavior changes, and discomfort. 

Arthritis treatment in pets

Arthritis cannot be cured, but can be managed to reduce your pet’s pain and help them maintain mobility. Arthritis management involves a multimodal approach that includes:

  • Weight management — Obesity is a significant pet problem, and the first step toward alleviating an overweight pet’s arthritis pain is to help them safely lose weight, which will take pressure off their joints.
  • Daily exercise — Low-impact exercise helps improve mobility in arthritic pets. However, limit high-impact exercises, such as running and jumping, which will exacerbate the pain and inflammation.
  • Joint supplements — High-quality joint supplements that contain ingredients such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussel reduce joint inflammation and support joint cartilage health.
  • Pain medications — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are commonly used to control pain in arthritic pets. Ensure you never use human, or another pet’s, pain relievers, because a pain reliever is prescribed or recommended for a specific patient and may endanger your pet.
  • Surgery — If your pet has a torn cranial cruciate ligament or suffers from hip dysplasia, orthopedic surgery can repair or correct the problem.
  • Alternative therapies — Alternative therapies, such as laser therapy, hydrotherapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care, can help keep an arthritic pet comfortable and mobile.

At-home support for arthritic pets

Small adjustments at home can make a big difference in your arthritic pet’s quality of life. Modifications may include:

  • Ramps — Ramps make reaching their favorite resting spot and getting in and out of the car much easier for your pet. 
  • Non-slip rugs — Hardwood, tile, and laminate flooring can be too slick for your pet to traverse safely, so use non-slip rugs and runners for extra traction. 
  • Orthopedic bed — Pet beds made from orthopedic foam provide joint support and allow for more restful sleep, rather than those that are stuffed with collapsible poly-fill, so upgrade your arthritic pet’s bed. 
  • Pet gates — Use pet gates to block your pet’s access to dangerous areas, such as stairs where they could stumble and be injured.
  • Mobility aids — Depending on your pet’s mobility level, provide extra support for them to stand, go up and down stairs, or get in and out of the car. Mobility slings and harnesses designed to fit under your pet’s abdomen or chest, with a handle on the back, help you support your pet’s weight. 

If your pet is showing possible arthritis signs, contact University Veterinary Hospital and schedule an appointment, so we can identify the problem, develop a long-term plan, and alleviate your pet’s pain.