How does arthritis affect pets?

Our four legged family members usually love to run, jump and play, so it’s hard to see them slowing down as they get older. But if your dog or cat isn’t as interested in playing, don’t be too quick to assume it’s a natural result of aging. Arthritis, which is a degenerative condition that causes painful joints, is common in middle-aged and older pets and could be the reason your furry pal isn’t as interested in playing. Even younger pets may develop painful joints as a result of an injury or trauma to the joint, an infection of the joint, or a congenital condition such as hip dysplasia.

The good news is that if your dog or cat is slowing down because of painful joints, there are ways you can help your pet become more comfortable and maybe even more playful again.

Since Fido can’t tell us when he’s feeling pain, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of painful joints. Some signs to look for include: a stiff gait or hunched posture, irritability, limping, difficulty rising, unwillingness to run or jump, trouble climbing stairs, joint swelling or a painful reaction when certain joints are touched. Affected pets are often more stiff in the morning or after lying down, and may seem improved after moving around and “warming up” the joints.

Keep in mind that cats are experts at hiding their symptoms, so you’ll have to look extra closely to detect changes in behavior that may indicate painful joints. A common sign in cats is a decrease in activity level, and an unwillingness to jump onto high surfaces that the cat previously had no trouble navigating. Some cats may have difficulty getting in and out of the litter box, resulting in accidents outside the litter box.

What should you do if you suspect your dog or cat is suffering from arthritis pain? The first step is to contact your veterinarian, who will likely take x-rays and conduct a thorough physical exam. While arthritis can’t be cured, there are many products that can keep your pet more comfortable such as joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers. Many dogs and cats with painful joints find a heated pet bed to be soothing, or consider an orthopedic bed to reduce pressure on painful joints.  Consider a pet ramp or pet steps to help your dog or cat climb on and off furniture that he or she may have difficulty with.

You can help prevent or slow the progression of the disease by keeping your pet at a proper weight, and providing opportunities for low-impact, light exercise to maintain muscle strength and flexibility.

Learn more about recommended joint supplements and pet medications for arthritic dogs and cats.