The Facts about Arthritis in Cats & Dogs

Just like in their human parents about 25% of dogs, and more than 70% of cats, are predisposed to developing arthritis in their lifetimes. Also similar to their owners, as a pet ages the chances of them showing signs of arthritis increases. Although it is a mainly senior health problem there are breeds, and hereditary conditions, that exist in some pets which will cause early onset arthritis. Although rheumatoid and septic arthritis exist in the animal kingdom, osteoarthritis (also known as degenerative joint disease) is the most common form found in pets.

Osteoarthritis causes damage to the joint tissues over time.  You’ll see the results of this type of arthritis appear as loss of cartilage, thickening of joint capsules, and deterioration and changes in the bones in the surrounding areas. The joint cartilage forms a protective “cushion” that absorbs the impacts of everyday activity (running, walking, jumping, standing up, laying down, climbing) and stops the bones from coming in direct contact with each other. This “bone on bone” friction causes pain and swelling (inflammation). Over time this degenerative disease will grow worse, and can appear in other joints in the body.  The most common areas impacted in both cats and dogs are the knees, elbows, ankles, hips, and shoulders.

How Did my Pet End Up with Arthritis?

As we mentioned earlier age is the #1 contributor to this disease, mostly caused by daily activity and living a normal pet life. However, overweight animals have an increased chance to develop osteoarthritis due to the extra stress and burden the extra weight places on the joints (the same is true with humans, BTW). Mom & Dad could also play a role in the development of arthritis. If the pet parents had arthritis, the chances their offspring develop the same is higher, genetically speaking. Injuries, especially in the hips/back/knees/paws/feet, can hasten or launch the development of arthritis in you fur buddy. Oddly enough, your pet can even show signs of arthritis in their tails… and since the tail is an important part of how an animal expresses themselves, the pain can be especially acute and aggressive in the tail joints.

A dog can start to show the signs of osteoarthritis as early as 5 years old. For cats, the normal age to start to see the impacts of the disease are from 6 years and up.

What are the signs of Osteoarthritis?

Depending on how long the disease has been attacking the joints, the location of the arthritis, the age of the animal, and the degree of degeneration, the signs can vary.  However, as a rule, you’ll see one or many of the following symptoms

  • A noticeable limp, or favoring one leg, obvious stiffness. You may see this more after a nap, first thing in the morning, or after exercise.

  • Obvious signs of pain. If you pet begins to whimper, flinch, cry-out, or react negatively from your touching their legs, back, hips, or feet, this could be a clear sign of arthritis pain.

  • Changes to their normal walk, or speed of walking. You might see them hunching over, favoring one set of legs, “bunny hopping” with their rear legs, lifting one foot or leg to avoid putting weight on it.

  • Refusal to play, or a change in their activity level. If your doggy dynamo suddenly doesn’t want to play, if your pets avoid running, if they move gingerly, or have stopped being their active self, they could be telling you that their struggling with joint pain.

  • Unable to climb stairs, jump up or down on furniture, inability to get into the car on their own. As arthritis advances and the damage increases, normal things like climbing stairs or getting on your lap in their favorite chair can become a painful experience that they start to avoid.

  • Angry or aggressive behavior. They become cranky due to the pain and lack of sleep due to pain. You might see this played out as being snappy at siblings, pulling away or attempting to nip at you if you touch especially painful areas. If its out of character for your fur kids to act that way, there has to be a reason. If its in the “joint zones” the reason could be arthritis.

Dogs, as a whole, show more visible signs of discomfort or struggling with arthritis. You’ll see noticeable signs of pain and avoidance, slower movements, lameness, and change in mood. Oddly enough, cats are troopers. You see less signs of pain or behavioral changes in felines. There have been cases where cats have gone their entire lives with zero signs of arthritis until it reaches Stage 4, or the end stage of life.

What Step do I Take if I Suspect Arthritis in my Pets?

If your fur kids show the signs of arthritis for more than a week, it may be time to consider a visit to their primary care veterinarian.  The vet will complete a workup on the animal, performing a physical exam which may lead to x-rays or an MRI to look for changes in the bone structure or to discover any joint damage that exists.

If the diagnosis is osteoarthritis your pets doctor could suggest several treatments, even multiple treatments to attack different parts of the degeneration.

  • A change in their everyday life. Their lifestyle might have to undergo massive changes, and these might impact you and your home as well. You may be asked to limit “high impact” activities such as running or jumping. This may in require you to install or provide ramps to access favorite higher spots, change the exercise routine form run & play, to leash and walk. You may need to lift and carry the pet to parts of the house that require climbing or have stairs.  For cats, a “low rise” litter box may be needed if the jump to use the box is too extreme.  All feeding and treats should be at floor level. If they have pet beds, you might consider buying special orthopedic beds.

  • Weight Management. Putting your tubby puppy or fat cat on a leaner diet to lose pounds might be required. Every pound they shed is less force and pressure on their joints.  You may need to feed them different food, eliminate all table scraps, and stop over treating.

  • Medications. Your veterinarian might start anti-inflammatory medication, pain management drugs, and even shots into the impacted area with a gel that acts as the cartilage in the joints. Another popular treatment option is regular cortisone injections. If the doctor does choose to treat with medication(s), your pet will likely need to have more frequent blood tests, as some drugs impact the liver and kidney function over time.

  • Supplements. To help decrease the inflammation and pain, you may be asked to start your pet on a daily regiment of omega3, or/and glucosamine/chondroitin. Some over the counter diet dog foods will have these supplements in their formulas. They also come in pill form.

  • Rehab Therapy. To improve mobility and get the animal onto an exercise routine, the doctor may prescribe special exercises, even underwater therapy like swimming or walking on an aqua-treadmill. In addition, a treatment increasing in popularity is Veterinary Laser Therapy.

There is no cure for arthritis in your pets, just management of the symptoms and pain. By working with your trusted veterinarian, you can create a long term care plan that will allow your pet to live a fairly normal (as normal as possible) and long life.

At Freddie’s Place, we do offer Laser Therapy Treatment to our arthritis patients. You can call 760-Freddie to discuss Laser Therapy and how it can benefit your pet.  

Even with your best efforts and loving care, eventually arthritis will win the battle. You are the primary caregiver for your fur kids, so its up to you to monitor and manage their pain and quality of life.  As the joint degeneration continues, the bone mass changes, and the pain increase, your pet will enter “Stage 4” of their journey with arthritis. You’ll see their range of motion become very limited. They will avoid standing and walking. You’ll see obvious signs of pain, restlessness, and the shifting of weight when they do stand. The presence of pain will increase and their tolerance to the pain will lessen. At this point it becomes that “quality of life” conversation. Your pet can’t verbally tell you that they’ve had all they can take, but you’ll know in their behavior. In these moments you’ll need to make hard choices for your pets.  Stage 4 arthritis can last for years if medically and environmentally handled correctly. Hopefully your pets never show signs of arthritis and you never have to manage the pain and changes this disease brings.

For more about arthritis in cats and dogs, you can read a very informative review of the disease at

Freddie wanted us to remind all his Dog Blog readers to “Spring Forward” on Sunday March 10th at 2am. The change in time means that a change of seasons is dashing towards us.  The official start of Spring this year is will be on Tuesday March 19th.  We ask all of our readers to make that extra hour of sunlight each day a special time with your pets. Take one extra walk, have a session of fetch, let your cat lounge in the sun an hour longer, go on a ride in the country with your fur kids. Whatever you do, make it special and build memories that will last you their lifetime, and yours.

Just a quick note, if you like what you read today, remember that the “Peke of Prose” has a full library of blog topics available at our web home. Feel free to link over and we’re sure you’ll find some topics that interest or entertain you.

We invite you to join us again next Thursday, as we unleash another mind stimulating, informative, and interesting blog topic. Until then, we hope you spend the week in good health, having good times, and enjoying good company (fur and flesh)… and don’t forget to make each day especially Pet Friendly, #FreddieSez!