Arthritis can significantly impact your pet’s quality of life, but many lifestyle changes and therapeutic treatments can keep pets comfortable for an extended period of time. Don’t let chronic joint pain limit your pet—talk to your South Shores Pet Clinic veterinarian about options for reducing inflammation, minimizing pain, and improving mobility. 

Defining arthritis in pets

Arthritis (i.e., osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease) is a degenerative inflammatory condition that can affect any body joint. This progressive condition can develop for a number of reasons, including:

  • Poorly formed joints
  • Age
  • Injury
  • Obesity
  • Chronic stress (i.e., repetitive concussive activity)

Inside an arthritic joint, the smooth, slippery cartilage that covers the bone ends has worn away, and left behind a rough, spiky surface. The fluid that once bathed and lubricated the cartilage, to ensure easy movement, has diminished. When the joint bends or extends, bone grinds against bone in an uneven, friction-filled manner. To avoid pain, pets minimize their movements and change their posture—leading to stiffness, reduced range of motion, and compensatory injuries.

Arthritis is well documented in canines, affecting at least 20 percent or roughly one in five dogs. The condition is difficult to identify in felines, but more prevalent than originally thought—studies have reported 60 to 90 percent of the cat population affected in at least one joint.

How to identify arthritis in pets

Arthritic pets rarely cry out or limp. Because the disease progresses slowly, pets adapt, and often mask their discomfort during mild and moderate stages. Unfortunately, this means many owners miss the subtle changes in their pet’s everyday behavior, including: 

  • Hesitation before jumping up or down
  • Moving more slowly
  • Sleeping more often
  • Changes in posture
  • Reluctance to participate in normal activities (e.g., walks or playing with toys)
  • Avoiding stairs
  • Walking away during petting
  • Changes in personality (e.g., agitation or apprehension)
  • Intermittent house soiling

How to help your arthritic pet

If your dog or cat shows early arthritis signs, schedule an appointment at South Shores Pet Clinic. Our veterinarian will examine your pet and observe their gait and stance, and may recommend X-rays, to look for joint inflammation and bone remodeling. After they rule out other reasons for your pet’s physical discomfort, they will design your pet’s treatment plan, based on their stage (e.g., mild, moderate, or severe), concurrent health issues, and physical condition. 

At South Shores Pet Clinic, we offer many effective options for arthritis management, and we can provide recommendations for daily care that will make a lifelong difference in your pet’s comfort and mobility. Treatment options include: 

  • Pain medication Arthritis pain responds well to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). NSAIDs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which make the body more sensitive to pain. NSAIDs are usually a long-term prescription for chronic pain, but doses may be tapered when the pet is receiving and responding to additional therapies. These medications are generally well tolerated by dogs and cats when given as directed, but require annual blood work to assess kidney and liver function. 
  • Weight management — Overweight pets put additional stress on their joints. As few as one to two pounds can make a big difference in a small pet’s comfort and mobility. Helping your pet slim down can literally take the load off of their joints and restore their quality of life. If your pet is overweight, our veterinarian will determine their caloric needs, evaluate your current feeding routine, and develop a controlled weight-loss plan along with your pet’s arthritis treatment (i.e., pain management).

  • Low-impact exercise — Arthritic pets benefit from controlled low-impact physical activities. Exercise helps prevent depression, maintains muscle mass and flexibility, minimizes stiffness, and improves circulation to affected joints. Safe exercise for dogs includes leash walks on level ground, controlled swimming, and underwater treadmill therapy. Cats prefer gentle toy play—avoid jumping or sharp turns—or following a food-dispensing ball. Begin with 15 to 30 minutes per day for dogs and a few five-minute daily sessions for cats. Warm up and cool down to prevent inflammation or injury, and watch for fatigue.
  • Chiropractic care — Chiropractic care used as part of a veterinary treatment plan can reduce pain and improve mobility by restoring proper joint and vertebrae alignment, to allow proper nerve conduction. South Shores Pet Clinic partners with Kim Kromas, DC to bring your pet this beneficial pain management modality. Like human chiropractic care, several adjustments are typically necessary at first, and regular monthly appointments may be recommended for chronic conditions such as arthritis.
  • Laser therapy — Therapeutic laser treatment is a pain- and drug-free therapy that stimulates tissues and cells with an invisible light wavelength. Laser treatment increases blood flow to affected tissues surrounding the joint, reduces inflammation, and alleviates pain. Laser therapy treatments typically take several minutes, and should be scheduled frequently during the initial phase, and then reduced as your pet improves. Pets with mild to moderate arthritis may be weaned off pain medications when laser therapy is used regularly.

Arthritis may not be curable or preventable, but addressing your pet’s pain at South Shores Pet Clinic can help your dog or cat enjoy a long, comfortable life. If your pet’s mobility or behavior is changing, contact us to schedule an appointment.