How arthritis affects pets

Written by Dr. Colleen Fisher  | Published on: 8/26/2020

Arthritis is part of getting older for many of us, but did you know pets get arthritis too? Also known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis develops when the protective cartilage lining of joints wears away to expose underlying bone. These changes lead to chronic inflammation and pain in both people and animals.

Signs of joint and arthritis pain in your pet

The most common clinical signs are no clinical signs. In one study, over 70% of dogs showed no obvious symptoms related to arthritis. In another, 95.7% of mature cats showed degenerative joint changes on x-ray despite owners reporting no observed lameness. If your pet does show signs of joint pain, here’s what you may notice:

  • Your dog seems still when waking up from a nap.
  • Your cat sleeps low to the ground or on shorter furniture to avoid jumping.
  • Your pet hesitates when using stairs.
  • Your pet is less interested in play that involves twists and turns.
  • You hear a clicking or grinding noise when your pet changes position or moves.
  • You notice warmth or swelling over your pet’s joints.
  • Your pet limps on one or more legs for more than a few days.

Diagnosis and treatment

  1. Start with a visit to your veterinarian and check-up for your pet. Not all lameness or bone pain is arthritis. Your vet may recommend x-rays, blood tests, and other diagnostics to ensure your pet is not dealing with cancer, immune-mediated disease, torn ligaments, or spinal conditions.
  2. Not all hip pain is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a specific disease of developing joints seen in growing large breed and giant breed dogs. The ball and socket of the hip don’t form properly, which leads to hip arthritis of varying severity as these dogs mature.
  3. Weight loss helps improve mobility and decreases stress on joints. Ask your vet staff to assess your pet’s body condition score and build a nutrition plan based on healthy weight goals.
  4. Prescription medications can decrease the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Your pet may benefit from occasional or long-term use of prescription medications that relieve both inflammation and pain.
  5. Many over-the-counter pain relievers are toxic to dogs and cats. Do not give aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to your pet. One 325 mg acetaminophen tablet can kill a cat. Ibuprofen causes perforating stomach ulcers and kidney failure in dogs.
  6. Nutraceuticals may be beneficial for some patients. Omega fatty acid supplements and low molecular weight (LMW) chondroitin sulphate/glucosamine combination products may improve clinical signs in some patients, although evidence is lacking as to true effectiveness.
  7. The science behind cannabidiol therapy is encouraging but CBD is not a cure-all. In people, cannabidiol products decrease symptoms associated with neuropathic pain and may have a place for the treatment of arthritis in pets. Scientific studies are still lacking with respect to effectiveness, and there are no veterinary-approved prescription products available in Canada to date.

Your pet may be hiding their pain or discomfort

You can help your pet live a happier life by providing pain relief if they suffer from joint pain and arthritis. If you’re worried about your pet’s joint health and mobility, see your veterinarian for a full assessment.

Pet insurance can help with the cost of vet visits

Petsecure can help cover the costs of examinations, diagnostic testing, and treatment of joint conditions in dogs and cats. Learn what’s covered by Petsecure and get a free quote today.