Arthritis, a common condition in humans and pets, can be defined as “inflammation of joints due to infectious, metabolic, or constitutional causes.” Chances are, you know someone who suffers this painful disease—perhaps yourself or your pet. Learn more about this prevalent condition in our four-legged friends. 

How common is arthritis in pets?

According to a 1997 study, “Osteoarthritis prevalence in North America is reported at 20 percent of all dogs over a year of age based on data collected from 200 veterinarians.” Given the age of this study, and that the pet population continues to increase, this value is likely higher at this point. A more recent report estimates that 15 million pets are presented for signs associated with arthritis each year. Additionally, approximately 90 percent of senior or geriatric cats suffer from some type of degenerative joint disease. These shocking statistics clearly show—arthritis is a big problem in our nation’s pets. 

What causes arthritis in pets?

Arthritis can occur because of a variety of factors, but the overwhelming majority of pets suffer from osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease characterized by joint cartilage deterioration and capsule thickening. Arthritis may also develop because of an immune-mediated condition, when the body attacks its own joints. This is known as immune-mediated polyarthritis in pets, and rheumatoid arthritis in people. Other possible causes of joint inflammation include infection (i.e., septic arthritis) and certain skin conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). 

What are arthritis signs in pets?

General arthritis signs are typically related to mobility. You may notice your dog favoring one leg, getting up or lying down more slowly, having difficulty with stairs, or being unable to jump into your vehicle. Cats may begin to refuse climbing onto furniture or play towers, and may become aggressive when a painful area is touched or manipulated. Particularly uncomfortable pets may exhibit changes in appetite or overall demeanor. Septic or immune-mediated arthritis may be accompanied by additional signs such as fever, joint swelling, and lethargy. Because of their stoic nature, pets will often mask their pain, and their owners may not notice the subtle disease signs. 

How will my veterinarian diagnose and treat arthritis in my pet?

If you believe your pet may be in pain, you should seek veterinary attention at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital, so a diagnosis and treatment can be pursued as soon as possible. During the examination, our veterinary team will assess your pet’s gait, body condition, muscle tone, joint range of motion, and if any crackling (i.e., crepitus) is appreciated when their joints are manipulated. If we find any abnormalities, we may recommend further testing to look for evidence of disease. Most often, this involves X-rays, but additional diagnostics such as blood tests or joint fluid analyses may be necessary. 

If osteoarthritis—the most common type of arthritis in pets—is diagnosed, treatment is aimed at alleviating patient discomfort and slowing disease progression. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease cannot be cured, but numerous therapies are available to help pets feel and move better. Potential treatments may include anti-inflammatory medication, joint supplements, exercise recommendations, chiropractic care, acupuncture, disease-modifying medications, laser therapy, or physical rehabilitation, to name a few. Your veterinarian’s recommendations will depend on your individual pet’s presentation and diagnostic findings. 

Can I prevent my pet from getting arthritis?

Osteoarthritis is common in pets with underlying orthopedic conditions, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, osteochondrosis dissecans, and cruciate ligament disease. Gender and breed also play roles in the development of this condition in pets. Therefore, for many pets, arthritis is predetermined because of irreversible factors. However, other factors, such as body condition, diet, and exercise, all which owners can regulate, contribute to the likelihood of osteoarthritis. If your pet has arthritis risk factors, talk with our veterinary team for diet, exercise, and other preventive recommendations. 

Detecting arthritis in pets isn’t easy. From diagnosis, to treatment, and everything in between, the Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital team is here to help. Contact us to set up an appointment if you suspect arthritis in your pet, or if you have additional questions regarding this condition.