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Arthritis (osteoarthritis)

If your pet doesn’t jump to greet you on your return home each evening, there may be a good reason - arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis. A chronic, degenerative joint disease that makes movement difficult and painful, arthritis mainly strikes pets in their middle and senior years. However, younger animals can also be affected. In fact, studies show that approximately 20% of pets have the condition in some form.

It can be heartbreaking to see your once lively, always active best friend begin to limp, or notice their obvious pain when moving around. There is, as yet, no cure for arthritis, but there is a great deal that we can do to decrease your pet’s discomfort and increase their mobility - especially if it is treated early.


Early warning signs of arthritis:

  • Difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, or getting in and out of the litter box

  • An overall decrease in activity, especially play

  • Resting more than usual

  • Slowness in getting up from a lying position

  • For dogs, “bunny hopping” with the hind legs, rather than running normally

  • Slow or stiff movements upon waking, after a rest, or in cold weather

  • Beginning to limp

  • Swollen joint(s) that is warm to the touch

  • Licking or biting at a joint

  • Choosing a warm and soft or cold and hard place to lie down

  • Personality change - your pet no longer likes to be touched


If you notice any of the signs above, don’t just think that your pet is “slowing down with age”. A vet visit is needed to assess them. The earlier arthritis is first diagnosed and treated, the better your pet’s quality of life will be.

What causes arthritis?

There are many causes, but practically all can be grouped into two main categories:

1. Abnormal stress on normal joints

  • An injury that damages a joint

  • “Wear and tear”: joints are subjected to repeated loads or stress

  • Obesity: an excessive load is put on joints


2. Normal stress on abnormal joints

  • Developmental defects that alter the shape or stability of a joint

  • Poor limb configuration: bow legs or knock knees can cause an uneven load on a joint

  • Genetic predisposition: some breeds of dogs are just more prone to arthritis than others


Whatever the specific cause, stress on a joint can begin a destructive cycle of inflammation of the joint area and damage to the cartilage that leads to pain for your pet.

How is arthritis treated?
Treatment includes three main components, each equally important.


1. Weight control Dogs that suffer from chronic pain caused by conditions like arthritis often become inactive, which can result in obesity. Controlling your pet’s weight will lighten the load on arthritic joints and make it easier to move around. Just as for humans, weight loss for animals involves both a well-balanced, calorie-reduced diet and regular exercise. Ask us for advice on the proper diet for your dog.

2. Exercise is essential because it contributes to strengthening the muscles that support joints. Daily, moderate amounts of low-impact exercise also improves joint mobility and can help get a lethargic, arthritic pet active again. Dogs will benefit from such activities as walking and swimming.
Consult us about what amount and type of exercise would be best for your pet. Also, be aware that your dog’s arthritis may be more severe at certain times than others. If this is the case, let your pet take a break from their exercise routine for a few days, until the painful flare-up subsides.

3. Anti-inflammatory drugs combat inflammation in the joints, thus relieving pain, increasing mobility, and protecting the joint from further damage. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are the drugs of first choice for the treatment of canine arthitis. Treatment is not curative, but will help control pain when needed. Newer NSAIDs are proving to be especially effective in reducing inflammation and pain, and improving mobility without the significant side effects - including gastrointestinal problems - previously associated with NSAID use. Ask us for more information.

There are other treatments which may be recommended for your pet which are anti-inflammatory, provide effective pain relief and can also help to protect cartilage from further degradation:

  • An injectable medication that contains Pentosan Polysulfate Sodium. This treatment is administered by us in a series of injections and maintained by booster injections;

  • Nutraceuticals that contain glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), the essential building blocks for joints and cartilage. These are oral preparations that are usually added to your pet’s food, and can be used in conjunction with other medications such as NSAIDs.

In addition to the above, we may also suggest physical therapy, cold or hot packs and baths, massage or acupuncture to help control pain. In extreme cases surgery may also be indicated.

What’s the outlook for a pet with arthritis?

Arthritis may progress very slowly (over several years) or very quickly (you might notice a major change in just a few weeks or months). It all depends on your pet’s age, their activity level, the joints involved and the underlying cause.
Some pets’ pain and loss of mobility can be kept to a minimum for long periods of time with a simple regimen of weight control, moderate, regular exercise and the occasional use of anti-inflammatory drugs if flare-ups occur. For others, severe damage to the joints may occur rapidly and require long-term medication and other treatments. In either case, we can determine the best course of treatment for your pet’s particular condition. There is no reason why, with your loving attention and committed care, as well as our vet's guidance, your arthritic pet cannot have a happy, healthy and comfortable life for many years to come.

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