Watching our dear pets slow down as they age can be hard to accept, because we’d all like them to live forever, and any indication of their mortality feels like a gut punch. We can’t offer our pets the elixir of life—we wish we could— but we can ensure they enjoy a comfortable life throughout their days with us. 

Arthritis is one of the most common conditions in adult and senior pets, and can cause a great deal of pain. Like humans, your pet’s arthritis risk increases with age, although pets can develop arthritis at any age if they have a genetic predisposition, or have suffered an injury.

Our Palmer Vet Clinic team answers common arthritis questions to help you understand the signs, and the available treatments that can improve your pet’s quality of life. 

Question: What is arthritis in pets?

Answer: Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes painful inflammation in the joints. In a healthy pet, cartilage lines the joints and acts as a barrier between bones. Arthritis causes articular cartilage deterioration because of age, injury, repetitive stress, or genetic predisposition. As the cartilage erodes, bone begins rubbing against bone, leading to chronic inflammation and pain. In other words—ouch! 

Q: How do I know if my pet has arthritis?

A: Initially, detecting arthritis can be difficult, since your pet may not let you know they’re suffering minor discomfort. Signs become visible only when the damaged joint causes your pet significant pain, and affects their behavior. Arthritis signs in pets may include:

  • Limping and stiffness
  • Decreased activity
  • Difficulty getting up
  • Difficulty navigating stairs or furniture
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Muscle loss
  • Weight gain
  • Licking or biting at the painful area
  • Pain when petted or touched in certain spots (e.g., the lower back)
  • Difficulty posturing to urinate or defecate

Q: What is my pet’s arthritis risk?

A: Any pet can develop arthritis, but some breeds—particularly large- and giant-breeds—have a genetic predisposition to hip and elbow joint issues. Additional factors that may increase your pet’s arthritis risk include:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Joint, ligament, and bone injuries
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Poor nutrition
  • Repetitive stress from athletic activities (e.g., agility, flyball, diving, hunting)

Q: How is arthritis diagnosed in pets?

A: Don’t wait for your pet’s joint damage to progress so far that they display serious outward pain signs. Instead, let our veterinarians monitor them for early joint disease signs through regular wellness exams. 

If your pet is displaying arthritis signs, we will perform a full physical examination, and assess your pet’s range of motion and pain level. We may recommend X-rays, to determine the extent of the joint damage, and rule out other potential causes.

Q: How can I treat my pet’s arthritis?

A:  Arthritis is a progressive joint disease that cannot be reversed, but many therapies can slow the progression and manage your pet’s pain. Your veterinarian can tailor your pet’s arthritis treatment based on their condition, and may include the following:

  • Joint supplements — Joint supplements promote healthy cartilage and joint health with combinations of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, green-lipped mussel, and other chondroprotective substances. Your veterinarian can recommend the best joint supplement that will improve your pet’s mobility, reduce inflammation, and slow joint damage progression.
  • Weight management and exercise program — An overweight pet with arthritis may benefit from a healthy weight-reduction plan. Your veterinarian can offer food recommendations, portion sizes, and an appropriate exercise program, such as swimming or walking, to help your pet comfortably maintain mobility, and shed pain-inducing excess weight. 
  • Pain medication — For some arthritic pets, prescription medication may be necessary to help manage the joint pain. Never reach into your medicine cabinet to manage your pet’s arthritis, because a pain reliever meant for you—or another animal—may not be right for your pet, and can be dangerous.
  • Alternative therapies — Alternative therapies, like laser therapy, hydrotherapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care, can help keep an arthritic pet comfortable and mobile.
    • Laser therapy — Can reduce pain by stimulating blood flow to tissues
    • Hydrotherapy — Uses water resistance to provide weightless, pain-relieving physical therapy 
    • Physical therapy — Veterinary rehabilitation therapists use physical therapy to relieve pain and improve joint motion. Therapy may include soft tissue mobilization and massage, passive range of motion (PROM), and stretching. 
    • Acupuncture — Therapists insert fine needles into your pet’s body at specified points (i.e., acupuncture points) where nerves and blood vessels converge. Acupuncture can enhance your pet’s blood circulation, and stimulate the nervous system to increase the release of anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving substances.
    • Surgery — An option if your pet’s arthritis is caused by an underlying joint condition such as hip dysplasia, which can often be treated with a surgical hip replacement

We can’t make our pets live forever, but we can keep them comfortable—including arthritic pets—with an integrative, multimodal therapy plan. If you think your pet may have arthritis, contact our team here at Palmer Vet Clinic, and let us help keep your furry pal happy and pain-free.