Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis (OA), is a chronic, inflammatory joint condition that is common in older pets. Left untreated, arthritis pain can negatively impact your pet’s quality of life. Because arthritis is a degenerative disease, an early diagnosis and prompt treatment can slow progression and manage your pet’s pain to improve their comfort. Our team at Island Animal Hospital shares common arthritis signs to look for in your pet.
What causes arthritis in pets?
In a healthy joint, a smooth cartilage layer acts as a cushion between the bones, and joint fluid reduces friction inside the joint during movement. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects the joint bones is destroyed, the cushion is lost, and the resultant friction between bones causes pain and decreased mobility. Any pet can develop arthritis, but some breeds, particularly large and giant breeds, are genetically predisposed to hip and elbow joint issues. Additional factors that may increase your pet’s arthritis risk include:
Joint, ligament, and bone injuries
Hip or elbow dysplasia
Repetitive stress from athletic activities
What are common arthritis signs in pets?
Arthritis is often difficult to detect in the early stages, as most pets hide minor discomfort and show signs only when the damaged joint worsens and causes significant pain. Since your pet may not let you know they’re hurting, monitoring them for early joint disease and scheduling regular wellness exams is critical. The following behavior changes may indicate arthritis:
Reluctance to move — Owners often attribute their pet slowing down to normal aging changes, but less activity may indicate arthritis. This is especially the likely cause if your pet is young and previously active. An arthritic pet may be reluctant to do things that were once easy and enjoyable, such as jumping into the car, climbing up and down stairs, and going for walks, since these activities are painful because of their swollen, arthritic joints.
Limping or lameness — Depending on the joints affected, your pet may limp or favor one or more legs when they walk. If their spine is affected, they may experience lameness in one or both hind legs.
Pain when handled — Inflammation in a pet’s joints can make affected areas sensitive to touch. If your pet now avoids being handled, or cries out in pain when you pet them, this could signal arthritis.
Irritability — If you were in constant pain, you would be grumpy! Arthritis can cause irritability in pets, and they may growl or snap if your handling worsens their pain.
Lethargy — Pain is exhausting, and arthritic pets may tire more easily, be less willing to play, and sleep more during the day.
Muscle atrophy — Arthritic pets often develop muscle atrophy (e.g., muscle loss) from inactivity and decreased muscle use. If one or more of your pet’s legs appears thinner than the others, their leg muscles could be atrophied.
Excessive licking, chewing, or biting — Pets with arthritis often lick, chew, or bite the painful body areas, which, over time, can lead to hair loss and inflamed skin in the affected area.
If you notice any of these signs, your pet needs a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian, and X-rays to determine if they are suffering from arthritis or another underlying condition.
Treating arthritis in pets
If your pet is diagnosed with arthritis, your veterinarian will work with you to help you decide on the best treatment options. While arthritis cannot be cured, pain management treatments that will help keep your pet comfortable are available. Your pet’s arthritis treatment may include:
Weight management — Extra pounds put a great deal of pressure on sore joints, so keeping your pet at a healthy weight is one of the best ways to reduce arthritis pain.
Pain-relieving medications — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are commonly used to reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Joint supplements — High-quality joint supplements that contain ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin 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.
Alternative therapies — Alternative therapies, such as laser therapy, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, and electromagnetic field therapy, can complement traditional Western surgical and pharmaceutical treatments.
Suspecting your pet has arthritis can be concerning, but an early diagnosis can help manage your pet’s pain so they can continue to enjoy a good quality of life. If your pet is showing early arthritis signs, contact our team at Island Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.