Arthritis is one of the most common conditions to affect cats and dogs, but this health issue often is considered to be a normal aging change. By learning more about the disease and how to manage it in your pet, you can greatly improve their quality of life if they develop arthritis. Here are nine facts from our Village Animal Hospital team you—and every pet owner—should know about arthritis.

#1: Arthritis is a common problem in cats and dogs

Arthritis affects one in five dogs in the United States, although many veterinarians believe that number is too low because arthritis is so difficult to diagnose. In cats, studies have shown that around 60% of cats 6 years and older have arthritis, and up to 90% of cats over age 12 show signs. 

#2: Arthritis is a slowly progressing disease

Arthritis is one of those conditions that slowly creeps up on your pet, not making its presence known until the disease has advanced an appreciable amount. As arthritis develops over time, its progress cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed. Taking preventive action is key to preserving your pet’s joint health as they age.

#3: Arthritis can develop at any age

Arthritis is often thought of as a senior pet’s condition, but it also can affect young pets. Pets who suffer a traumatic injury when young or who are afflicted with a severe orthopedic abnormality from birth can develop arthritis at an early age.

#4: Arthritis can affect any pet

Every pet has the potential to develop arthritis, although it is more common in specific breeds. Dogs who are more likely to fall victim to arthritis are generally large or giant breeds, such as:

  • German shepherds
  • Golden retrievers
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Bernese mountain dogs
  • Newfoundlands
  • Saint Bernards
  • Mastiffs
  • Great Danes

Some breeds are also at an increased risk for arthritis because of their anatomy. Dachshunds, corgis, and basset hounds have long, low bodies that can cause excessive strain on their joints.

#5: Certain risk factors can increase your pet’s chances of developing arthritis

In addition to breed predisposition, other risk factors can increase your pet’s likelihood of developing arthritis. They include:

  • Aging
  • Obesity
  • Type and intensity of exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Genetics
  • Injuries
  • Anatomical abnormalities

#6: Arthritis can be difficult to spot

Pet owners often attribute arthritis signs to normal aging changes. However, many of the signs associated with senior status are actually indicators of a disease process, such as arthritis. Also, since arthritis is typically a slow-to-progress condition, it can be difficult to spot subtle changes that occur over time. 

To detect arthritis in your pet at the earliest stage, be on the lookout for the following signs:

  • Stiffness, especially upon rising
  • Lameness or limping
  • Reluctance to play or exercise
  • Refusal to jump, climb, or use stairs
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Lethargy
  • Irritation or aggression
  • Hiding
  • Flinching when painful joints are touched
  • Overgrooming of sore joints
  • Swollen joints
  • Inappropriate elimination

#7: Diagnostic tests do not always reveal arthritis

A physical exam and X-rays of the affected joints are the standard diagnostic tools used to identify arthritis. However, signs may not always be revealed with a physical exam, since dogs can become excited and fail to limp or show pain, while cats can become nervous and refuse to move at all. Radiographic changes may also not be apparent, despite clear signs on a physical exam, like lameness or joint swelling.

To diagnose arthritis accurately, it is necessary to look at every piece of evidence in light of each other. Oftentimes, a trial of pain-relieving medication is administered, and an improvement in the pet’s comfort cements an arthritis diagnosis.

#8: Home modifications can greatly improve your arthritic pet’s life

Dealing with arthritis pain is challenging for pets, especially when they previously experienced exceptional mobility, flexibility, and strength. To help your pet safely and comfortably navigate your home, modify the environment. Cover slick floors with yoga mats or carpet runners, install stairs or ramps leading to furniture or the outdoors, and place all resources on the main level of your home. Consider elevating your pet’s food and water bowls if they have arthritis in their elbows, shoulders, or spine. For cats, switch to low-sided litter boxes that are easy to use.

#9: Your veterinarian is your best source for managing your pet’s arthritis 

Successfully managing arthritis is a complex task that is best undertaken with the help of your Village Animal Hospital veterinarian. To ensure your furry pal lives a comfortable, mobile life with an arthritis diagnosis, we will:

  • Prescribe medications — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and disease-modifying drugs are some medications we have in our arsenal to help ease your pet’s pain and restore their mobility and quality of life.
  • Recommend supplements — Joint supplements that contain glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, and green-lipped mussels are known to preserve and repair joint cartilage, in addition to reducing inflammation.
  • Create a weight management plan — Too many pets are overweight, which causes additional pressure on already overburdened joints. We will help your pet lose weight safely and maintain an ideal body weight to reduce pain.
  • Devise an appropriate exercise regimen — Low-impact, non-strenuous activity is key to preserving joint cartilage and minimizing discomfort. Avoid activities that require sudden starts and stops, jumping, or other high-impact movements. Swimming is an excellent activity for arthritic pets.
  • Discuss alternative therapies — Alternative therapies encompass a wide range of treatments that are most effective when paired with other therapies. Acupuncture, chiropractic care, laser therapy, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, and many other types of alternative treatments can reduce inflammation, maintain muscle mass, and improve mobility.

If you suspect your four-legged friend has arthritis, don’t wait for obvious signs. Schedule an appointment with our Village Animal Hospital team today to preserve your pet’s joint health and mobility.