Aging is inevitable, and our pets are no exception. Your older pet may be growing wiser but, unfortunately, they’re also likely to be suffering from wear-and-tear joint inflammation called osteoarthritis (OA). Younger pets can also be affected by OA that is related to injury or joint malformations. OA is painful, but most pets hide their pain until the disease has reached an advanced stage, making early recognition and diagnosis key to your pet’s comfort and mobility. Heritage Veterinary Clinic understands the importance of aging gracefully, and can help you identify and manage your pet’s arthritis pain. 

Pet arthritis basics

In pets with OA, joint cartilage thins and tears, the joint capsule becomes inflamed, bone spurs form, and the joint can become unstable, which may result from normal aging, prior injury, or abnormal joint formation. The degeneration process creates pain and inflammation, which discourages your pet from using the affected limb. Disuse and weight-shifting cause muscle atrophy, further weakening affected joints. OA worsens over time, as the inflammation self-perpetuates, damaging tissues and destroying joints from the inside out. Medical interventions can halt, slow, or sometimes reverse this process, thereby increasing your pet’s comfort and mobility.

Does your pet have arthritis?

To break the pain and inflammatory cycle, pet owners first must recognize pain signs, which can be subtle in early cases or more obvious in advanced cases. Any changes in your pet’s daily activities, routines, or behavior could indicate pain, and should prompt a veterinary visit. More specific arthritis signs in dogs and cats may include:

  • Limping or altered gait
  • Stiffness after rising
  • Trouble with stairs or jumping on furniture
  • Unwillingness to use the litter box (cats)
  • Difficulty squatting to use the bathroom (dogs)
  • Swollen joints
  • Cracking or popping joints (i.e., crepitus)
  • Behavior changes (e.g., increased “grumpiness,” decreased sociability, hiding, vocalizing)
  • Slowing down or refusing walks

Pet arthritis risk factors

Arthritis affects each pet differently, depending on size, age, breed, weight, and other health  factors. Pets who have a combination of these predisposing factors will likely be affected early or more severely:

  • Obesity — Extra weight stresses joints, and can significantly hinder your pet’s recovery and mobility. 
  • Prior injury — Ligament tears, fractures, dislocations, and other injuries likely will result in early arthritis in the affected joint.
  • Joint malformation — Some pets are born with abnormal joints caused by hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, growth-related cartilage defects, and breed-related limb deformities. Because these joints don’t move normally, they take on extra physical stress and quickly develop arthritis.
  • Large breeds — Large-breed dogs are more likely to suffer from joint malformations, as their size causes more stress on joints.

Treating pet arthritis

Your veterinarian will first examine your pet’s joints to check for swelling, decreased range of motion, crepitus, and pain. Some arthritis types can be caused by systemic illness or tumors, so your veterinarian may order blood work, X-rays, or other tests to rule these out. Once an arthritis diagnosis is confirmed, treatment is aimed at reducing pain, minimizing muscle loss, improving mobility, and slowing further degeneration. 

Proper nutrition and weight control are the most fundamental treatments. Prescription diets may provide an anti-inflammatory effect or encourage weight loss. Additional treatments may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory or pain medications
  • Cartilage-protective supplements and injections
  • Rehabilitation (i.e., therapeutic exercise, water therapy, laser therapy)
  • Alternative modalities (i.e., acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal medicine)
  • Regenerative therapies (i.e., stem cell and platelet-rich plasma joint injections)
  • Surgery (i.e., joint replacement, joint fusion, injury repairs)

Tips for living with arthritic pets

Arthritic pets need special accommodations to meet their safety, exercise, and social needs. Look at your environment from your pet’s perspective, and create solutions for their unique problems. A few considerations include:

  • Traction — Hard floors can be slippery for pets with weakened muscles. Place rugs or runners on hard floors, or consider pet socks, booties, or toe grips. 
  • Stairs — Stairs pose a dangerous falling hazard for unstable pets. Consider adapting your home so your pet can live on one house level, and install ramps or use carry harnesses when stairs are unavoidable. 
  • Accessibility — Ensure litter boxes are low-sided and easy to use, and that the routes to food, water, and resting places are short, safe, and obstacle-free.

Don’t let arthritis pain diminish your pet’s quality of life. If you believe your pet is suffering with chronic pain or injury, call us to schedule a visit with our Heritage Veterinary Clinic team, or visit our sister location, Marcy Veterinary Clinic, for your pet’s rehabilitation needs.