How to Spot Arthritis in Your Pet

It is common for middle age to older pets to suffer from arthritis. However, under certain circumstances, even younger pets are prone to joint pain. Arthritis can be mild and unnoticeable to you or be debilitating to a point it severely affects your pet’s quality of life.


  • The most common signs of joint disease are:

  • Limping

  • Stiffness

  • Favoring a limb after resting or sleeping or an inability to rise

  • Reluctance to climb stairs or jump up or down from places

  • Noticeable pain

  • Unusual urination in the house

  • Loss of appetite

What is not a common sign of arthritis in older pets is vocalizing and crying. It is, however, the one thing that nearly every pet owner expects to see and hear.  Don’t confuse a lack of “complaining” on your pet’s part with being pain-free.

Causes of arthritis

The most common diseases in the result of arthritis are degenerative joint diseases or osteoarthritis. However, there is such a wide range of diseases that lead to arthritis that they have been broken down into ten classifications:

  • Ligament, tendon, or muscle disease (ruptured anterior cruciate ligament)

  • Fractures that involve the affected joint

  • Development disorders (hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, osteochondritis dissecans, Legg-Perthes disease)

  • Congenital disorders (Wobbler’s syndrome, luxated patella)

  • Dietary and hormonal diseases (hemophilia in dogs)

  • Cancer

  • Degenerative joint diseases (Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis)

  • Degenerative spinal joint disease (intervertebral disc disease, cauda equina syndrome)

Pain management and treatments

Hip dysplasia treatment

Because hip dysplasia is primarily inherited, development is not preventable. However, a decrease in its progression is a possibility through proper diet, exercise, supplements, anti-inflammatories, and pain relief.


Weight Management

Up to half of the pets in the U.S. are overweight, which increases the chances of your pet further developing hip dysplasia/osteoarthritis. Considered to be the hardest part of treatment for the client especially, helping your pet lose a few pounds is tedious yet the best thing you can do for their general health. Ask your vet what’s the appropriate amount of food for your pet and keep the treats to a minimum. In due time your pet will reach the recommended weight.



Exercise will provide a building of the muscle, which will limit the wear and tear on the joints. Forms of low-impact exercising to consider would be leash walking, swimming, walking on treadmills, slow jogging, and walking up and down stairs. The wrong exercises can be detrimental. For example, playing frisbee with your dog is tough on their joints and only exercising on weekends instead of daily could leave your pet sore on weekdays. In the same way, humans exercise, don’t forget a warm up period and a warm down period with each daily routine. Ask your vet for an individualized exercise program that best suits your pet’s condition.


Warmth and Resting Areas

Arthritis worsens in cold, damp weather. Keeping temperatures in the house on the warmer side, along with dressing your pet in a sweater to warm their joints. Now you have the perfect excuse to dress your pup up!

A firm, orthopedic foam beds in dome shapes help to evenly distribute weight and reduce pressure on your pet’s joints. Don’t forget to place in a warm spot, away from drafts.


Minimize daily tasks

Turn stairs into ramps. Going up and down steps may make going outside to potty very difficult, which could lead to them choosing to leave you ‘presents’ in the house.

Elevated food and water bowls. This will make eating and drinking more comfortable for your pet, especially if there is stiffness in the neck or back.


Physical therapy and massages

Physical therapy is often overlooked, but can defer the invasive option of surgery. With the right regimen for your pet, it can work against hip dysplasia by breaking the pain-inflammation-pain cycle and strengthen muscles around the hips, the joints become more stable. Consult your vet for the appropriate exercise and physical therapy program that reflects your pet’s condition.

Massaging will relax stiff muscles and promote a good range of motion in the joints and restore blood flow. Consult your vet before trying.


Injectable or Oral Agents &  Supplements, and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Injectable: Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan (Adequan) - A series of shots over several weeks that helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage and synthesis of new cartilage.

Injectable: Hyaluronic Acid (Legend) - Often introduced into osteoarthritis treatments, it is meant to protect the joint by increasing the viscosity of the joint fluid.

Oral: Glucosamine and Chondroitin - These two ingredients are the main agents in the typical joint supplements that help rebuild cartilage worn and damaged by arthritis.  Many of the substances listed below are in the better products so dosing can be greatly simplified with one joint supplement product.

Oral: Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Although often used to manage allergies in dogs, their anti-inflammatory properties are helpful with treating pain management in pets with osteoarthritis.

Oral: Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM) - A more natural approach which contains a sulfur compound produced by kelp in the ocean. It is known to improve the structural integrity of connective tissue and help reduce scar tissue, as well as anti-inflammatory and pain reducing properties.

Oral: Duralactin - Obtained from the milk of grass-fed cows, it is marketed for the management of musculoskeletal disorders in dogs and has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s operative use is in managing inflammation or work in conjunction with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Oral: Creatine - Is an amino acid derivative formed in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It helps the body produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which acts as a fuel in short, intense bursts. Creatine aids muscle atrophy associated with osteoarthritis.

Oral: NSAIDs - There are a variety of pain medications (Metacam, Previcox, Onsior) that are safe for daily use for dogs and even cats.  The newer generation medicines are much more effective and easier to dose than the older medicines. These drugs are the mainstay of pain management for pets.

Oral: Tramadol - A pain medication that can be combined with NSAIDs for increased pain relief.


Preventing arthritis in kitten & puppyhood

With purebred puppies, choose a reliable breeder who should have x-rays taken of hips and elbows to prevent dogs with poor joint conformation from breeding.

Don’t overfeed or over-exercise. An adequate diet with added calcium will help delay or prevent arthritis. Refer back to weight management and exercise in this post. 

A comfortable sleeping space will distribute weight evenly and not cause unnecessary pressure on joints. Refer back to resting areas in this post. 


Catching development of disease early

A veterinarian can diagnose arthritis based on your pet’s age, medical history, and a physical exam. X-rays on joints may be necessary to determine severity if a joint disease is detected. Schedule your annual exam with us today by giving us a call at (941) 755-4592.

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