If your pet is slowing down, don’t assume this is normal for their age. They could be suffering with arthritis, which is common in pets but not always evident to pet owners. Our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team wants to help with information about determining whether your pet is affected, and managing arthritis to alleviate your pet’s pain. 

What causes pet arthritis?

Pets can be affected by two joint disease types:

  • Degenerative joint disease (DJD) — DJD (i.e., osteoarthritis [OA]) is the most commonly recognized and diagnosed arthritis type in pets. OA is caused by many factors, and can be classified as primary or secondary:
  • Primary osteoarthritis — Primary OA is associated with aging, and diagnosed when an underlying condition can’t be identified.
  • Secondary osteoarthritis — Secondary OA is caused by an underlying issue, such as trauma or abnormal joint development, that results in joint cartilage damage. 
  • Inflammatory arthritis — Inflammatory arthritis can be infective or non-infective. Infective (i.e., septic) arthritis occurs when an infectious agent, such as a bacteria or a virus, invades the joint. Non-infective arthritis is typically caused by an immune mediated disease.

What pets are at risk for arthritis?

Any pet can be affected by arthritis, but pets at increased risk include:

  • Senior pets — As your pet ages, normal wear and tear degenerates their cartilage, leading to arthritis.
  • Overweight pets — Pets who carry excess weight place increased strain on their joints, predisposing them to arthritis.
  • Pets whose joints develop abnormally — Pets with conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas, and osteochondritis dissecans are at increased arthritis risk. 
  • Injured pets — Pets who are injured, such as a fracture, tendon or ligament injury, or joint dislocation, are at higher risk.
  • Infected pets — Pets affected by infections such as tick-borne illnesses are at increased inflammatory arthritis risk.
  • Certain breeds — Certain breeds, such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and rottweilers, are more arthritis prone.

How do I know if my pet has arthritis?

Pet arthritis signs can be subtle, and many cases go undiagnosed and untreated because the pet’s owner doesn’t realize their four-legged friend is in pain. Signs that may indicate your pet has arthritis include:

  • Reduced activity — When their pet slows down, many pet owners assume normal aging is the cause, but the pet may be avoiding physical activity because they have arthritis.
  • Stiff movements — Many arthritic pets move stiffly, especially after resting for an extended period.
  • Difficulty navigating stairs — An arthritic pet may avoid stairs or have an odd gait when navigating stairs.
  • Finding different resting places — Arthritic pets may find accessing elevated surfaces difficult and decide to rest in a more convenient location. 
  • Change in temperament — Arthritic pets may show less interest in interacting with people and other pets, and may exhibit uncharacteristic irritability or aggression.
  • Change in grooming behavior — Some arthritic pets have difficulty grooming normally, and you may notice an unkempt appearance. An arthritic pet may also over groom a painful area, where they may lose hair or irritate their skin.

How is pet arthritis diagnosed?

Tests that help our veterinary team diagnose pet arthritis include:

  • History — We gather a detailed history about your pet’s behavior to determine if they are exhibiting signs that may indicate joint pain.
  • Physical examination — Our veterinary team assesses your pet’s joints to determine if they have pain, crepitus, or instability on manipulation, if the joint has a normal range of motion, and if the joint is thickened or swollen.
  • X-rays — We may recommend X-rays to assess your pet’s joint if we suspect arthritis.
  • Joint fluid analysis — In some cases, we may recommend evaluating your pet’s joint fluid to determine the cause of the problem. 

How is pet arthritis treated?

Pet arthritis can’t be cured, but we can use many strategies to help manage your pet’s condition and alleviate their pain. Most pets need a multi-modal treatment approach to effectively manage their condition, and modalities may include:

  • Dietary manipulation — Maintaining a lean body conformation with a restricted food intake is one of the most important aspects of managing your pet’s arthritis. Our team will devise an appropriate diet to help your pet safely lose weight, if necessary.
  • Pain control — We will determine the best non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and other pain medications for your pet.
  • Joint supplements — Our veterinary team may prescribe joint supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and polysulfated glycosaminoglycans.
  • Exercise modification — Therapeutic exercises can help overweight pets lose weight, and improve joint health and range of motion.
  • Laser therapy — Laser therapy is a great, non-invasive supplement to other arthritis treatment strategies.
  • Joint injections — We can inject anti-inflammatory and joint protective substances directly in your pet’s joint to provide extended pain relief. 
  • Surgery — In some cases, surgery is necessary to effectively manage arthritis.

What can I do to make my arthritic pet more comfortable?

Modifying your home can help ensure your arthritic pet is as comfortable as possible. Recommendations include:

  • Purchasing an orthopedic bed — Find a supportive orthopedic foam bed, where your pet can comfortably rest their aching joints.
  • Raising bowls — Raise your pet’s food and water bowls, so they can eat and drink easily.
  • Ensuring accessibility — Ensure your pet’s food and water bowls and litter box are easily accessible. 
  • Providing ramps — Place ramps or stairs next to elevated surfaces, so your pet can access these areas without jumping.

Arthritis is a common condition in pets, but early detection can help ensure your pet is treated appropriately. Contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital if you notice your pet slowing down, so we can determine if arthritis is their problem.