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Arthritis in Cats and Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments

Senior dog sitting in grass


You might notice your dog or cat walking stiffly as they age. Pet arthritis can make it challenging for your furry friend to move about, sit, and stand after lying down for a while. You can do things to help reduce pain and make it a bit easier for your pet to move.

Osteoarthritis is most common in older pets since it's a degenerative disease but can occur at any age. You might notice your pet moving differently, limping, or even experiencing behavioral changes. A vet can diagnose the condition and may suggest medication, rehabilitation, or supplements to help manage your pet's arthritis.

Understanding osteoarthritis and the signs to look for can help you get your pet the best treatment. The sooner you act, the quicker your dog or cat can get pain relief and live a more comfortable life.

Does Your Dog or Cat Have Arthritis?

One of the most common forms of arthritis in pets is osteoarthritis, when the cartilage around joints begins to deteriorate. This degenerative disease is most apparent in older dogs and cats but can appear at any age.

Certain factors that can increase your pet’s arthritis risk are old age, obesity, and pre-existing health conditions, including elbow or hip dysplasia. It’s also possible for larger dogs to have an increased risk of developing the disease and certain cat breeds, including Persians and Himalayans.

At first, you might not suspect anything is amiss with your pet, especially if they tend to be good at hiding pain. Also, if your furry friend is getting up in years, it’s common to attribute certain behaviors to merely slowing down with old age.

But, pay close attention to your pet after they get up first thing in the morning or after lying down for an extended period. You might also notice arthritis symptoms more readily in colder weather.

Signs Your Pet Might Have Arthritis

Here are some common signs indicating your pet is dealing with arthritis.

  • Decreased Mobility — Your pet doesn’t want to move or play as much as they used to. You’ll also likely notice stiffness in their joints when they walk or try to stand. Your pet will also probably shy away from jumping or climbing stairs.
  • Limping — You might notice your pet favors a particular leg or part of their body. The limp will likely be especially evident after laying down for a while or after prolonged activity.
  • Behavior Changes — In addition to changes in mobility, your pet might start to act differently. For example, a dog or cat that once groomed themselves constantly may no longer do so, or they might do so more often. An increase in grooming behavior could be your pet trying to lick or chew at the area, causing pain.
  • Different Postures — If your pet is standing, sitting, or laying differently, it could signal pain in certain areas. Your pet is adjusting their posture to accommodate for this pain.
  • Decrease in Muscle Mass — Look at your pet and assess their overall muscle mass. If it seems to be decreasing, especially if one limb is skinnier than the others, this could be a sign of arthritis. Your pet isn't using their muscles as much as they used to, leading to atrophy.
Senior cat

How Does a Vet Diagnose Arthritis?

Schedule a vet visit if you notice your dog or cat slowing down and facing mobility challenges. Although arthritis might be an expected part of your pet’s aging process, it doesn’t mean they have to live in pain or discomfort. Likewise, your vet holds the key to suitable treatment if your pet is still young and experiencing arthritis due to other factors.

Your vet will conduct a physical exam and may also order x-rays. X-rays will rule out other potential causes of your pet’s pain and behavior.

Four Things Vets Recommend for Pet Arthritis

If your vet diagnoses your pet with arthritis, they will offer several treatment options depending on the severity of your pet’s condition. They will also factor in any special situations, like your budget and your pet’s age and health history.

Some recommendations to treat your pet’s arthritis are:

1. Pain Medications 

There’s no cure for osteoarthritis, so managing your pet's pain is the best course of action. To do this, the go-to is often Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce inflammation and joint pain. Make sure to give your pet medications only prescribed by your vet. Giving your dog or cat over-the-counter human NSAIDs is dangerous and can have severe consequences.

2. Nutrition and Supplements

Your vet might recommend a change in diet that increases fatty acids to help with joint health. Certain supplements can also help support healthy joints. Check with your vet before making any changes, especially if your pet is on other medication.

3. Physical Therapy and Exercise

Low-impact exercise can help your pet build up the muscles around their joints. It’s also helpful for preventing obesity or excess weight that can put undue pressure on your pet’s joints. You can talk with your vet about rehabilitation services like massage, laser therapy, and other treatments that can help ease your pet’s pain.

4. Surgery

Your vet might recommend surgery to remove damaged tissue in more severe cases. Another option would be joint replacement surgery, which your vet would be more likely to suggest if your pet is younger.

Neater Feeder

6 Things You Can Do at Home to Help Your Pet's Arthritis

Talking with your vet about your pet’s arthritis is your first step in helping your fur baby find relief. But there are also things you can do at home to improve your pal’s quality of life.

  1. Elevate Your Pet’s Dishes — Using elevated dishes like the Neater Feeder can help reduce your pet’s pain. It sits up high, so your pet won’t have to lean down and put unnecessary strain on their spine or joints to reach their dish.
  2. Keep Pets Inside — Let your pets remain inside and keep them warm, as colder weather can worsen arthritis symptoms.
  3. Avoid Slippery Floors — Place down rugs or mats if you have hard-surface floors so your pet doesn't slip and slide. It can also help to keep doors closed or put up baby gates to limit your pet’s access to certain areas.
  4. Consistent Exercise — Maintain a consistent, low-impact exercise routine with your pet. Even a short leash walk on a soft surface, like dirt or grass, will go a long way to help your pet.
  5. Get Your Pet a Comfortable Bed — Provide your pet with a soft, comfy place to sleep. You can also find orthopedic beds that can help offer additional support for your pet.
  6.  Limit Steps and Get A Ramp — If your home has multi-levels, or your pet needs to step down to get outside, etc., look into a pet ramp. If your pet is too large for you to lift, a ramp can also help them get into the car for vet visits and trips.

You can do a lot to battle pet arthritis and increase your pet’s comfort. Knowing what to do is half the battle. For more helpful tips, check out our blog to find all sorts of resources and valuable info that can guide you in doing what’s best for your furry family members.


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