Many pet owners attribute the fact that their pet is slowing down to normal aging, but arthritis, a common and painful pet condition, could be the cause. Arthritis (i.e., degenerative joint disease) causes pain and decreased mobility in pets of all ages, sizes, and breeds. “Arthritis” literally means joint inflammation, and is used to describe any joint condition. Two bones meet at a joint, but when the tissue layer that cushions the bones and joints becomes damaged, inflammation and pain (i.e., arthritis) results, negatively affecting your pet’s quality of life. Our team at LaGrange Veterinary Hospital shares what you need to know to identify arthritis signs and care for an arthritic pet. 

Arthritis risk factors in pets

Arthritis can occur in any joint, but most commonly affects the hip, elbow, knee, wrist, and lower back. While arthritic joints are mostly seen in older pets, other factors can increase a pet’s risk of developing arthritis, including:

  • Breed — Large breeds (e.g., Golden retrievers, springer spaniels, German shepherds, Alaskan malamutes, Bernese mountain dogs) are more prone to arthritis development.
  • Weight  Excess weight puts extra stress on joints and can negatively impact mobility and increase a pet’s arthritis risk. 
  • Injury or trauma — Fractures, dislocations, or other joint injuries can cause abnormal joint conformation, and a pet who has previously injured a joint is more likely to develop arthritis. 

Arthritis signs in pets

Arthritis is one of the most common reasons for chronic pain in pets, but the signs may not be obvious in the early disease stages, because many pets are stoic and hide their pain. But, as the disease progresses and the joint pain becomes more severe, an arthritic pet’s pain becomes obvious and you will see behavior changes, such as: 

  • Limping — An arthritic pet may favor one or more of their limbs, or walk with a limp, depending on which joints are affected. Your pet may mostly limp when they first get up after lying down, but their stiff joints will loosen once they move around. 
  • Reduced mobility — Arthritis can be so painful that many pets become reluctant to make certain moves, such as sitting still, or jumping in and out of the car. Also, arthritic pets tend to tire more easily and may struggle to keep up on walks.
  • Decreased activity — Your arthritic pet may rest more often, and their legs may appear thinner as their muscles atrophy from inactivity. 
  • Abnormal posture — Arthritis can affect the spine, causing a hunched back, sore neck, or back-leg lameness in your pet. 
  • Temperament changes — Your arthritic pet may become irritable, and may not longer tolerate being touched in painful areas. 
  • Licking or biting — Pets with arthritis often lick, chew, or bite their painful body areas. 

Arthritis treatment in pets

Arthritis cannot be cured, but can be managed, and most arthritic pets can live a long, happy, and pain-free life. The multimodal treatment approach includes: 

  • Weight management — Helping an overweight or obese pet lose weight can greatly reduce their arthritis pain by removing excess pressure on their arthritic joints.
  • Exercise — Low-impact exercises, such as swimming or walking, can help keep your pet’s muscles and tendons strong. 
  • Medications — Medications that relieve arthritis pain are available. 
  • Joint supplements — Supplements that contain ingredients such as glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate can reduce joint inflammation and support joint cartilage health.
  • Surgery — Orthopedic surgery can repair or correct some conditions, such as a torn cranial cruciate ligament or hip dysplasia, that cause arthritis. 
  • Alternative therapies — Physical therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and electromagnetic field therapy may help with managing your pet’s pain. 

If you think your pet may have arthritis, contact our team at LaGrange Veterinary Hospital to schedule an appointment, so we can evaluate their condition and provide pain relief, if necessary.