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Arthritis in Dogs and Cats 101

Your Guide to Causes, Symptoms and Treatments of Pet Arthritis

By Matt Popkin. April 20, 2012 | See Comments

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Arthritis in Dogs and Cats 101

When your dog or cat suffers from arthritis, you need to make adjustments to maintain their quality of life. Learn how here.

Arthritis in dogs and cats can greatly change your pet's life. They are often unable to do the things they once did with ease. Your dog no longer runs to go play fetch; they now have to walk to retrieve that tennis ball. Your cat can’t quite make it up onto the couch; you have to help lift them.

That doesn’t mean you love your pet any less, but it does mean you need to make adjustments to ensure their quality of life stays great during their later years.

Causes of Dog and Cat Arthritis

The most common form of arthritis in dogs and cats is osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis.This usually occurs simply because of old age and a life spent jumping, running, and playing. As your pet gets older, the cartilage in their joints wears down. 20% of all dogs will suffer from osteoarthritis during their lifetimes, often in their hips. Some will contract it due to a previous condition such as hip dysplasia, while some will contract arthritis after an injury to their joints or a joint infection. Larger dogs are more likely to suffer from arthritis than small dogs, because they have more weight on their joints, which causes more strain.

Another kind of arthritis found in dogs is immune-mediated arthritis, which is caused by your pet’s own antibodies turning against their cartilage. This results in both nonerosive arthritis, where no cartilage is destroyed and there is only inflammation, and erosive arthritis, where the cartilage is destroyed. Immune-mediated arthritis is usually diagnosed through a joint tap and treated by a veterinarian-prescribed drug combination of pain medications that can include steroids.

While cats are less likely to contract arthritis than dogs, they can also suffer severe joint pain, because of the reasons listed above. For both cats and dogs, cold and damp weather can increase the pain to the point where walking around becomes a struggle.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

The main symptoms of arthritis are your pet suddenly developing a limp or having a hard time moving around. Watch to see if your pet has difficulty walking after they have been asleep or resting for a long period of time. Another symptom is your pet may have one leg that has significantly less muscle than the other. This is a sign that they have been favoring one of their limbs and trying to keep weight off of it, likely meaning the joints in that leg are causing them pain.

When a veterinarian diagnoses your pet with arthritis, they will listen to you describe your pet’s symptoms and then they will give your pet a physical examination where they feel the pet’s joints as your pet moves around and sits. They may also take x-rays to better see the damage to your pet’s joints.

dog with arthritis

Dog and Cat Arthritis Treatment

There are many treatments for arthritis, but the simplest one is to help your pet stay thin and healthy with moderate exercise. The less weight they put on their joints, the less strain there will be. However, excessive exercise will just damage their joints more. For this reason, some recommend hydrotherapy for pets who are suffering from osteoarthritis, because swimming is a low-impact form of exercise.

When it comes to medical treatments, dogs have more options than cats. Dogs can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Previcox, to combat their pain, as well as intramuscular injections, which are shot into your dog's muscles with a syringe and help your dog's cartilage regrow. Both cats and dogs can take joint health supplements, like Dasuquin, Cosequin, and Glyco-Flex, many of which come in capsules so they can be taken with your pet’s food. These supplements help your pet’s cartilage rebuild while also fighting against inflammation in their joints.

Read on for a more in-depth look at how to tell if your pet has arthritis and at all the methods of treatment available to them. That way you'll be able to keep your pet healthy and happy for years to come.

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by,your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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