Has your pet been exhibiting signs of arthritis? Or has your dog or cat been recently diagnosed with the disease?
Nutrition can play a critical role both in preventing and treating this condition of the joints, also known as osteoarthritis, which results in a decline in cartilage—the protective buffer between joints and bones—and in turn leads to joint pain.
For the Undiagnosed Pet: Signs of Arthritis
The common indicators of arthritis are: limping, difficulty with movement, an increase in sleeping hours, stiffness of the joints, weight gain, a decline in energy levels, behavior changes, a drop in flexibility, exhibiting pain and discomfort when touched, and being less likely to jump, run, or climb.
If these symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks, visit the veterinarian and have your pet evaluated for arthritis. A proper diagnosis typically includes a physical exam and possibly X-rays.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, one in five dogs is affected by arthritis. Large breed canines, including Mastiffs and Great Danes, are at greater risk for this health problem, but no breed is risk-free. The condition is rarer in cats; older and obese felines are the most likely to be affected.
Nutrition to Prevent Arthritis
In addition to making sure your pet gets regular exercise, be sure to follow a healthy diet for dogs or a healthy diet for cats. Your pet may postpone the onset of arthritis or avoid it altogether! Since obesity is a risk factor—a result of the pressure the excess weight puts on your pet’s body—take precautions to make sure your pet maintains a healthy weight.
Joint supplements may help promote joint health and even boost your pet’s critical joint-protecting cartilage, both of which could mean your pet is able to ward off some of the symptoms associated with arthritis.
Treating Arthritis Through Your Pet’s Diet
As with arthritis prevention, keeping a trim figure is beneficial in managing the condition. Extra weight further burdens your pet’s joints and muscles, particularly when they may already be experiencing painful symptoms. Speak with your vet about creating a weight-loss plan if excess pounds pose a problem for your cat or dog. Keep treats to a minimum or consider cutting them from your pet’s diet.
Nutritional supplements can aid in cartilage production. One of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, EPA, can help ease the inflammation associated with arthritis. Chondroitin and glucosamine are two additional supplements that may also be recommended to improve the joint health of your cat or dog. Glucosamine is a building block for chondroitin, which is found naturally in your animal’s cartilage, and assists in preventing painful, and potentially damaging, friction between the bones. Glucosamine, chondroitin, or both together can be used as supplements. Follow the dosing guidelines on the product’s packaging to determine what amount to give your pet.
Additional Treatments for Pets with Arthritis
To ensure your special pal’s utmost comfort, take care in making food and water bowls easy to access, so your pet doesn’t have to put any unnecessary pressure on already aching joints.
Your vet may also recommend anti-inflammatory medications (pain relievers) and a low-impact exercise routine, such as walking or swimming. If your pet does not respond to other treatments, surgery may be necessary, depending on the disease’s progress
Never give your cat or dog human arthritis medications without consulting your vet.
More on Caring for Pets with Arthritis
The Cause of Arthritis in Pets
5 Things to Know About Canine and Feline Arthritis
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. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.