Arthritis is a common condition in older pets, but pets of any age can develop this painful condition. Arthritis can be extremely painful, reduce your four-legged friend’s mobility, and decrease their quality of life. Arthritis cannot be cured, but you can help lower your pet’s disease risk, identify early signs, and manage your beloved companion’s pain. Read our Central Houston Animal Hospital team’s guide to learn the causes, signs, and treatment of arthritis in pets. 

Arthritis in pets

Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes painful joint inflammation. 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 between a joint’s bones becomes damaged. Over time this cartilage degeneration causes your pet’s joints to become inflamed, and as a result, your pet feels pain in their affected joints.

Arthritis causes in pets

Any pet can develop arthritis—and most will develop this condition as they age—but a few factors may increase your four-legged friend’s risk. Large- and giant-breed dogs, including golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and German shepherd dogs, are predisposed to joint conditions such hip and elbow dysplasia, and osteochondrosis—a developmental disease that occurs in rapidly growing large-breed dogs—typically between 6 and 9 months of age. Other factors that can contribute to a pet’s cartilage damage include:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Joint, ligament, and bone injuries
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Poor nutrition
  • Repetitive stress attributable to athletic activities (e.g., agility, flyball, diving, hunting)

Ensure you always bring your pet to their regularly scheduled wellness visits—especially if your four-legged friend is predisposed to arthritis. During a wellness exam, your veterinarian can monitor your pet’s weight to ensure they stay within a healthy range and identify early arthritis signs before the condition progresses.

Pet arthritis types

Although older pets commonly develop arthritis, pets of any age can develop this condition. Three main arthritis types commonly affecting pets, include:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) — The word osteoarthritis combines the Greek words osteo for bone, arthr for joint, and itis for inflammation. OA is pets’ most common arthritis type, resulting from joint cartilage loss, the thickening of a joint’s connective tissue, and  spur-like bony growth development, causing pain with movement. OA most commonly affects the hips, knees, shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a pet’s immune system attacks their body tissues, mistaking their body’s own proteins for foreign proteins, and damaging the joint lining and cartilage, as well as many other body parts.
  • Septic arthritis — Septic arthritis is an inflammation of one or more joints caused by infection—bacterial or fungal—in the the affected joints’ fluid.

Arthritis signs in pets 

Early arthritis signs may be difficult to detect because animals are expert pain maskers until they become so uncomfortable they display noticeable behavioral changes. Pets’ common arthritis signs may include:

  • Decreased activity
  • Difficulty getting up from a reclining position
  • Difficulty navigating stairs or furniture
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Muscle loss
  • Weight gain
  • Licking or biting at the painful area
  • Pain when petted or touched in certain spots (e.g., the lower back)
  • Difficulty posturing to urinate or defecate

Diagnosing pet arthritis 

The earlier in the disease process your pet’s arthritis is diagnosed, the sooner you can begin getting help to manage their pain. If your pet exhibits any arthritis signs, contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team, so we can perform a thorough physical examination and take X-rays to determine whether your four-legged friend has arthrititis or a different condition. 

Pet arthritis treatments

While arthritis cannot be cured, pets have many treatment options, depending on the disease’s type and severity. On the basis of your pet’s condition, your veterinarian can tailor your four-legged friend’s treatment, which may include the following:

  • Pain medication — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g., Rimadyl [carprofen]) can decrease your pet’s inflammation and pain.  
  • Joint supplements — Supplements (e.g., chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids) may alleviate your pet’s joint pain, and maintain the cartilage essential for healthy joints.
  • Weight management — For an an overweight or obese pet, losing weight helps relieve excess pressure on sore joints. 
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy can improve joint range of motion and flexibility, helping reduce inflammation and your pet’s pain.
  • Surgery — To help manage arthritis-related conditions, surgery may be performed to remove deteriorating cartilage or replace damaged joints.
  • Alternative therapies — In addition to pharmaceuticals, laser therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care can provide pain relief. Ask your veterinarian if alternative therapies are right for your pet.

With proper treatment, a pet with arthritis can have a long and happy quality of life. If your pet is exhibiting arthritis signs, contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team, so we can help keep your furry pal content and pain-free.