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Arthritis in dogs and cats

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Arthritis can be common as our pets get older. It can cause discomfort and reduced movement of the joints.

yellow Labrador, sore paw, dog arthritis

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints causing pain, stiffness and discomfort. The cartilage within the joint becomes damaged meaning it is no longer smooth which leading to rubbing and pain in the joint. Due to this increase in friction new bone forms in the joint restricting movement.

It generally happens in older pets but can occur in the younger years if the pet has problems/ deformities of joints such as hip dysplasia or a ruptured cruciate ligament.

Signs of arthritis

Signs can vary slightly between dogs and cats but here are some of the things you may notice.

  • Reluctance to exercise

  • Reluctance to jump

  • Lameness or stiffness

  • Worsening when cold and damp

  • Licking at joints

  • Pet moves slower than used to, unwilling to rise from bed

  • Pet may become grumpy and less tolerant of being handled.

How are pets diagnosis with arthritis?

spaniel, vet check up

If you are concerned your pet may be developing arthritis a trip to see your vet is a great idea. Your vet will often be able to find out if your animal is affected by doing a thorough clinical examination where they bend and extend the joints. They may suggest further investigations such as X-rays.

Treatment of arthritis

Unfortunately arthritis can't be cured, once the signs appear the joint has been damaged. However there are many options to slow the progression of the arthritis, reduce discomfort so your pet can continue to have a great quality of life. Here are some of the treatments I give my patients.


These are joint supplements that support healthy function. They contain ingredients like chondroitin, glucosamine and green lipped muscle. Results can be noted in 6 weeks of use.

I used Yumove (click for link) in my dog Millie for years and was very impressed with the results. She was very mobile up until her 14 years of age (click here to see my review for more details).

Weight loss

Arthritis is often worse in overweight animals due to the increased pressure placed on the joints. Weight control and exercise management are incredibly important when controlling progression of arthritis. Exercise is important to keeping muscle mass and strength, without enough exercise the muscles waste and become weaker providing less support for the joint. hydrotherapy can be an excellent non weight bearing therapy for your pet. Speak to your vet about weight clinics and diets.

Anti inflammatory drugs

These are prescription drugs that are prescribed by a vet. They help control the inflammation in the joint from the constant wear and tear and provide pain relief. There are a variety of drugs available, depending on your animals general heath this may not be suitable as can have side effects with long term use.

New drugs

There are new drugs coming out all the time for treatment of arthritis. Some are antibody based drugs which block receptors on nerve cells which blocks the pain associated with arthritis. These drugs tend to have less side effects.

Response to treatment

Not all pets respond equally to treatment. Different treatments may suit different animals better. Sometimes you may need to trial a few treatments to see a good improvement. Some pets have such severe arthritis that we are limited with options and need to consider their quality of life. If your pet is no longer able to walk, bathroom and is in a lot of pain you should speak to your vet asap.

Ways to assist your arthritic pet at home

While you should always contact your vet if you suspect your dog is developing arthritis there are a few things you can do at home to help make their lives a bit easier.

swimming  chocolate labrador
  • Keep your pet dry- the weather can affect the severity of pain caused by arthritis. it tends to be worse in cold wet months. Draughts can stiffen their joints so encourage them to lie somewhere warmer.

  • Provide a comfortable place to lie A clean warm soft bed is very important in a dog with arthritis. Orthopaedic memory foam beds are available to reduce to pressure on the sore joints so allow them to rest more comfortably.

  • Keep nails trimmed to reduce pressure on their paws as they walk

  • Raise water and food bowls to prevent your pet from having to lower their neck and pulling on the joints.

  • Use a ramp to help you pet access areas that are higher up that they enjoy to be to minimise jumping, examples are into the car or on the bed. For small animals you can carry them.

  • Non slip surfaces are useful as you do not want your pet slipping on laminate or wooden floors straining their joints. carpets and rugs can minimise this and be less traumatic on the joints.

  • Encourage controlled exercise to maintain muscle mass and fitness.

  • Alternative treatments Acupuncture has shown good results in managing arthritis in animals. Speak to your vet if you are considering this option.

  • Hydrotherapy can help with weight loss and keep your pet active. Obviously this is more suited to pets that like water!! As the pet is weightless underwater they can exercise with very little pressure on the joints which reduced pain and builds muscle and stretches the joints.

Long term

Arthritis is a degenerative disease which means it progresses and worsens over time. The good thing is there are many medications and supplements that can slow this progression and reduce the discomfort associated with the condition.

Overtime your pets requirements for treatments may change so regular checks with the vet are advised. Some medications require regular checks and blood tests with the vet.

You know you pet best and if you have concerns your pet is showing signs noted above or your pet is worsening then arrange a check up for them.

old dog, dog arthritis

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