Arthritis in Dogs and Cats 101 Your Guide to Causes, Symptoms and Treatments of Pet Arthritis

Arthritis in Dogs and Cats 101
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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 canโ€™t quite make it up onto the couch; you have to help lift them.

That doesnโ€™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 petโ€™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 petโ€™s symptoms and then they will give your pet a physical examination where they feel the petโ€™s joints as your pet moves around and sits. They may also take x-rays to better see the damage to your petโ€™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 for dogs, 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 petโ€™s food. These supplements help your petโ€™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.

Causes of Dog and Cat Arthritis

Arthritis in dogs and cats can have a number of causes, ranging from old age to a previous condition like hip dysplasia. Knowing what causes arthritis can help you be on the look out for when your pet first starts to develop arthritis. Catching the disease early is key. Several cartilage rebuilding medicines work better the sooner your pet begins taking them. Here is a brief rundown of what could be causing your petโ€™s discomfort.  

Old Age

The most common cause of arthritis is simply your pet getting older. Throughout their life, the cartilage on your petโ€™s bones wears down as they live an active pet lifestyle. All that ball chasing, jumping, and running puts a lot of strain on their joints. Years of these motions damage the cartilage that made it possible for them to move so freely. Thatโ€™s not to say that being active leads to your pet getting arthritis. Itโ€™s just that eventually your active, playful pet gets old, and when they do, their joints get old, too.

Your petโ€™s body will try to repair its damaged cartilage, but as time goes on, these natural repairs become more and more haphazard and will end up causing pain, inflammation, and stiffness. As your pet becomes older, the cartilage does not repair as well, leaving them to suffer from conditions like arthritis.

Previous Conditions

If your pet has suffered from joint pain or conditions like hip dysplasia or a ruptured cruciate ligament in their youth, then thereโ€™s a good chance they will suffer from arthritis later in life. Such damage accumulates over time, and it all adds up to painful and damaged joints that keep your pet from enjoying life like they should.

Thatโ€™s not to say there is an age limit for arthritis. Unlucky pets can suffer from arthritis when they are younger if they have damaged their joints through conditions or injuries.  


Itโ€™s simple. If your dog is overweight, then they put more of a strain on their joints. In many cases, their joints are not built to hold that extra weight, which leads to the cartilage wearing down.

Additionally, larger dogs suffer from arthritis more than small dogs. But remember, an overweight small dog can still damage their joints to the point they begin to suffer from arthritis. In the end, an overweight dog of any size is more likely to get arthritis than a fit and trim dog.

Diagnosing Dog and Cat Arthritis

Your veterinarian can use a few different procedures to diagnose your pet with arthritis. First and foremost, they will listen to you talk about your dogโ€™s symptoms. They then will most likely put your dog through a physical examination, in which they take note of how your dog's joints respond as your pet moves around. Other options for determining if your pet has arthritis are taking x-rays of their joints and taking a sample of your petโ€™s joint fluid with a needle for analysis.

Now that you know what can cause arthritis, you need to learn how to tell if your pet is suffering from the condition. Read our next section to find out what symptoms your pet will show if they have arthritis.

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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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