According to some estimates, arthritis affects 20% of dogs (i.e., one in five) and between 40% to 92% of cats. And, because many pets don’t receive routine veterinary care, the total numbers are likely much higher.
Despite its prevalence, arthritis in pets often remains undetected for many years—while pets suffer in silence. We explain how to identify early arthritic changes in your pet—then, as soon as you recognise the signs, you should schedule a visit to Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital for a complete examination.
Arthritis—not always an “old pet” disease
Although senior pets are most commonly identified as arthritic, arthritis can occur in young pets as well. In fact, arthritis pain often begins in a pet’s earlier years but is missed because the signs are so subtle. And, dogs and cats hide obvious discomfort because of their survival instinct, and instead cope with the chronic pain by changing how they stand and move, which ultimately leads to muscle loss, generalized weakness, depression, and a decreased quality of life.
Everything hurts—what is arthritis in pets?
Arthritis is a progressive condition that can affect any body joint and often involves multiple joints. Arthritis pain is caused by inflammation in the joint, and prolonged inflammation creates damaging enzymes that destroy smooth cartilage. In a natural attempt to self-heal, the body replaces the lost cartilage with bone, but this rough, uneven surface creates additional pain and friction during movement, so the pet minimizes joint movement to avoid the pain, and inadvertently increases joint stiffness and muscle loss.
Risk factors—arthritis causes in pets
Arthritis is not caused by one single factor, but rather by several factors that can vary from pet to pet. Known risks include:
- Obesity — Excess weight puts unnecessary pressure on your pet’s joints.
- Injury — Bone fractures and joint trauma can trigger the inflammatory process.
- Structure — Your pet’s build can affect how natural forces are distributed when they bear weight on their joints as they walk and run.
- Nutrition — Inadequate or excessive nutrients—especially calcium and vitamin D—can alter bone growth in young pets.
- Orthopedic diseases — These include hip or elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, and cruciate ligament rupture.
Subtle signals—how pets express arthritis pain
It’s a common misconception that pets must vocalize or limp to show pain. Some pets are so stoic (i.e., indifferent to pain) that they never show signs, no matter how much they’re suffering. Such pronounced signs are often a last resort, and by then signify late-stage disease.
To prevent unnecessary pain and misery, pet owners and veterinarians must work together to identify arthritis in its earliest stages. This means looking for subtle clues—often changes in a pet’s everyday behavior—that suggest discomfort or adaptation. Like humans, all pets experience pain differently, so be alert for any combination of signs, including:
- Stiffness when changing position or rising
- Slowed movements
- Lagging behind on walks
- Reluctance to go up or down stairs
- Reluctance to jump up or down (e.g., to or from furniture or a vehicle)
- Weight shifting (i.e., leaning or favoring one leg or side)
- A rounded spine when standing
- Low head carriage
- Reduced stamina
- Uncharacteristic behavior (e.g., irritability, aggression)
- Loss of interest in physical interaction
Knowing the problem—arthritis diagnosis in pets
You should schedule an appointment at Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital if you note that your pet is experiencing any of the above signs. Our veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination, paying particular attention to each joint’s range of motion (i.e., flexibility). In addition, the veterinarian may analyze your pet further using:
- Stance and gait evaluation — We will watch your pet stand, walk, and trot, which can reveal otherwise hidden discomfort.
- X-rays — We will take X-rays to evaluate your pet’s bones and joints for classic arthritis signs.
- Sedated examination — If we suspect an orthopedic injury, we may recommend a more thorough assessment while your pet is sedated.
Comfort restored—arthritis treatment options for pets
After learning their pet has arthritis, many owners feel sad or guilty because of the poor prognosis, but arthritis pain can be successfully managed, allowing many arthritic pets to live long, comfortable, and relatively normal lives. Your pet’s treatment plan will combine pain control and methods to prevent disease progression, including:
- Anti-inflammatory medication — Oral medication can block inflammatory cells that cause pain and irritation. Effective pain relief will promote exercise and physical activity, and improve your pet’s mood, energy, and overall health.
- Joint supplements — Glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids are often used to promote cartilage health and relieve inflammation.
- Nutrition and weight management — The diet and the amount of food your pet eats directly impact their physical health.
- Low-impact exercises — Light exercise improves joint range of motion, promotes body condition, and strengthens muscles, without creating additional joint inflammation or damage.
- Lifestyle modifications — Help your pet maintain their confidence and independence with pet ramps, stairs, or harnesses, and prevent fall-related injuries by placing non-slip rugs on slick floors.
Because arthritis is a progressive condition, your pet’s needs will change, but attentive at-home monitoring and regular visits to Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital will ensure their pain is well-managed and they can live their best life.
Arthritis in pets—is prevention possible?
Although arthritis cannot be prevented, proper care can reduce your pet’s risk and lessen the severity. Good practices include:
- Keeping your pet at a lean, healthy weight
- Avoiding high-impact or concussive exercises (e.g., repetitive jumping, intense fetch games)
- Feeding your pet a veterinary-recommended diet, especially during their early development
If you are concerned that your pet has arthritis, don’t wait—prompt diagnosis is the best way to ensure long-term relief. Contact Mercer Street Veterinary Hospital to schedule your pet’s appointment.
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