Pet owners often think normal aging in their senior pet includes reduced activity, but changes in their behavior could also indicate chronic arthritis pain. Dogs and cats instinctively hide pain as a survival mechanism, so arthritis isn’t always obvious, even to their caregivers. Left untreated, arthritis may significantly affect your pet’s quality of life, but Homestead Animal Hospital can help you recognize and address this common ailment. Here we answer your commonly asked questions about pet arthritis.

Question: What is pet arthritis?

Answer: Arthritis is defined as inflammation in and around joints. The most common arthritis type, osteoarthritis (OA), occurs when wear and tear causes joint tissues and cartilage to break down over time, leading to pain, bone spurs, muscle loss, and joint instability. Pets with arthritis pain often use the joint less as a protective measure, but this contributes to muscle loss and dysfunction. The tissue breakdown and inflammation is self-perpetuating, so untreated OA will continue to progress. Other arthritis types can arise from infections or tumors, but these are less common.

Q: Is my pet prone to arthritis?

A: All pets have the potential to develop arthritis through normal wear and tear, and your pet is more likely to have one or more arthritic joints the older they are, similar to aging humans. Some factors put your pet at greater risk for more significant, or earlier-in-life problems, including:

  • Obesity — Extra weight places enormous stress on your pet’s joints, leading to quicker breakdown and declining mobility.
  • Prior injury — Pets with fractures, ligament tears, or cartilage defects from injury will develop arthritis in the affected joint sooner.
  • Abnormal joints — Some pets are born with abnormal joints from conditions including hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas (i.e., “floating” kneecaps), and angular limb deformities. These joints don’t move normally, so wear and tear happens more quickly.
  • Larger breeds — Large-breed dogs place more stress on their joints because of their size, and tend to age faster than smaller dogs. They are also more likely to be born with abnormal joints, develop growth-related cartilage problems, and suffer from knee injuries.

Q: How do I know if my dog has arthritis pain?

A: Arthritis signs in dogs can be subtle or obvious, and may include:

  • Reduced activity level or appetite
  • Limping
  • Stiffness that improves with activity
  • Trouble rising after resting
  • Trouble with stairs
  • Behavior changes

Q: How do I know if my cat has arthritis pain?

A: Cats are naturally agile, athletic creatures, and their pain can be more difficult to detect. Some studies show up to 80% of cats older than 10 years have some degree of arthritis, but most go untreated. Arthritis signs in cats may include:

  • Eliminating outside the litter box
  • Hiding or reduced social interaction
  • Hesitation or refusal to jump
  • Decreased appetite
  • New behavior problems or aggression between pets

Q: How do veterinarians diagnose pet arthritis?

A: Your veterinarian can detect subtle changes in joint conformation and movement on physical examination, before other signs become apparent. Annual or biannual veterinary wellness examinations are the best way to detect early changes. An arthritis diagnosis can be confirmed, and tumors or infections ruled out, with X-rays and blood testing.

Q: Can I give my arthritic pet over-the-counter medications?

A: Never give your pet over-the-counter or other human medications without your veterinarian’s direct instructions. Human anti-inflammatories are toxic to pets, who metabolize drugs differently, and can cause liver and kidney failure, stomach ulcers, or death. Your veterinarian can prescribe safe, pet-specific medications to improve comfort.

Q: How do veterinarians treat pet arthritis?

A: Arthritis is best treated using a multi-modal approach that addresses pain, disrupts the inflammatory cycle, and improves function and mobility. Treatment options are based on your pet’s individual needs, and may include:

  • Supplements — Glucosamine, chondroitin, fatty acids, and many other ingredients can improve joint health in early OA stages. Some prescription diets include these helpful ingredients.
  • Medications — Prescription pain and anti-inflammatory medications help with comfort and interrupt inflammation.
  • Physical therapy — Professional rehabilitation using exercise, swimming, water treadmill, e-stim, and other methods help keep muscles working and balanced to improve function.
  • Alternative and complementary therapies — Laser therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and homeopathy help many patients.
  • Surgery — Surgery can repair injuries or correct abnormal joint mechanics to slow OA onset, and total joint replacement or reconstruction can improve end-stage joint function.
  • Advanced treatment — Regenerative medicine, including stem cell therapy and platelet-rich-plasma injections, uses your pet’s own healing factors, but requires anesthesia and specialty-level veterinary care.

Q: What can I do at home for my arthritic pet?

A: Arthritic pets can have difficulty simply getting around, so household changes can help them adapt. Consider the following:

  • Improving traction — If your pet slips and slides on hard floors, add runners and rugs to their main areas. You can also use booties, socks, or rubber nail bands that increase any surface traction.
  • Removing obstacles — If your pet can’t jump over or easily move around furniture to get to food, water, or other needs, do your best to simplify their route.
  • Adding ramps — Stairs can be a big problem for arthritic pets. If possible, add ramps to entryways and the car, and confine your pet to one house level with baby gates.
  • Adjusting the litter box — Your cat may have stopped using the litter box, because they cannot get in and out comfortably. Offer a low-sided box, modify the entry, or make a new box. Get creative!

Q: Can pet arthritis be reversed or prevented?

A: With proper treatment, early arthritis can sometimes be reversed, but the goal for more advanced disease is to reduce pain and slow progression as much as possible. Keeping your pet slim, and ensuring they are examined at least yearly so changes can be detected and treatment started earlier are the best prevention against arthritis. Also, ensure your large-breed puppy eats the appropriate food that regulates bone growth.

We know that pet arthritis can be difficult to detect, but your team at Homestead Animal Hospital is here to help. Call us to schedule an appointment if you feel your pet may be suffering from arthritis pain, or if you have questions about your pet’s treatment.