If your pet is spending more time sleeping, lagging on walks, or losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, you may wonder whether your furry pal is simply slowing down as they age, or if they have developed a health condition. While many health problems affect aging pets, the most common ailment is arthritis. To help you decipher your pet’s behaviors and determine if they are suffering from arthritis or another condition, our Palm City Animal Medical Center team explains the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for pets’ arthritis. 

What causes arthritis in pets?

When cartilage covering the bone within a joint deteriorates, the joint becomes inflamed, resulting in osteoarthritis (i.e., degenerative joint disease [DJD]). Cartilage cushions a joint, allowing smooth movement. However, as its protective cushion deteriorates, a joint becomes inflamed and painful, decreasing in range of motion, and developing bone spurs, which form when extra bone grows on the original bone in response to lost cartilage. Osteoarthritis can affect one or more of a pet’s joints such as the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, and spine. Factors that contribute to cartilage breakdown include:

  • Age
  • Injury
  • Poor nutrition
  • Repetitive stress from athletic activities
  • Disease

Are some pets more prone to developing arthritis?

Any pet can develop arthritis, but because of their unique genetics, some breeds—including large and giant breeds, and those with long bodies and short legs—are more susceptible to this disease. Other factors that can also increase your pet’s arthritis risk include:

  • Extreme activity
  • Obesity
  • History of trauma (e.g., fractured leg, cranial cruciate ligament rupture)
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Luxating patellas
  • Joint infections

How do you recognize arthritis signs in pets?

The identification of a pet’s mild arthritis signs can be difficult, because animals tend to be stoic, and their pain is rarely unmasked until the disease progression causes a behavior change. Arthritis signs can vary, but the most common include:

  • Limping or difficulty moving
  • Decreased activity level
  • Reluctance to exercise or play
  • Pain or discomfort when touched
  • Joint swelling 
  • Stiffness after rest

How is arthritis in pets diagnosed?

The earlier your veterinarian diagnoses your pet’s arthritis, the sooner you can begin managing your four-legged friend’s pain. If your pet exhibits any arthritis signs, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and take X-rays to determine if your pet is suffering from this debilitating disease or another underlying condition. 

How is arthritis in pets treated?

Arthritis is a progressive disease and cannot be reversed or cured. Pets’ arthritis treatment focuses on three goals:

  • Managing pain
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Slowing disease progression

Many arthritis treatments are available, and—depending on the degree of your pet’s joint deterioration—your veterinarian will likely recommend more than one. A multimodal arthritis treatment approach can greatly improve your pet’s quality of life and may include:

  • Joint supplements — Supplements that contain ingredients such as glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate can reduce joint inflammation and support joint cartilage health.
  • Pain-relieving medications — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and opioid derivatives can relieve arthritis pain. 
  • Weight management — Helping your pet maintain a healthy weight can greatly reduce their arthritis pain by reducing pressure on their joints. 
  • Surgery — Orthopedic surgery can repair or correct some arthritic conditions, such as a torn cranial cruciate ligament or hip dysplasia. 
  • Physical and alternative therapies — To help manage your pet’s pain, your veterinarian may recommend some alternative options such as physical therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and electromagnetic field therapy.  

How can I accommodate my arthritic pet at home?

A veterinary diagnosis and medical treatment are necessary to manage your pet’s arthritis pain. However, the following simple environmental modifications and support can help your pet feel more comfortable and confident at home:

  • Ramps — Arthritis often decreases a pet’s mobility. Help your pet access their favorite resting place on a couch or bed by installing ramps. In addition, keep a portable ramp in your car to help your pet get in and out. 
  • Nonslip flooring — Traction is a must for pets with mobility issues. To reduce your pet’s injury risk on slippery floors, such as wood, linoleum, or tile, put down textured runners.  
  • Orthopedic bed — Orthopedic pet beds are designed to provide even support, and cushion your pet’s bony joints—especially the hips, knees, and elbows. Providing your pet with a high-quality orthopedic bed can significantly reduce their joint stiffness and discomfort. 

Arthritis is a painful condition for pets, but an appropriate multimodal treatment plan can improve their comfort and quality of life while slowing the disease’s progression. If you suspect your pet has arthritis, schedule an appointment with our Palm City Animal Medical Center team.