Arthritis in Pets


Arthritis may be considered one of the "hidden diseases" of pets, as both dogs and cats are adept at concealing the signs of arthritis pain until the condition has significantly progressed.

Arthritis refers to any damage or deterioration of joints in the body. It can develop due to defects in the bony structures of the joint present at birth, such as hip dysplasia (common in breeds like Labradors and German Shepherds), or as a result of an injury or long-term wear and tear.

Certain breeds can inherit joint disorders, so kennel clubs use X-rays to assess joints and ensure that animals with heritable joint problems are not bred. This is most commonly seen in "hip-scoring." Like in humans, joint injuries or surgeries can lead to arthritis over time. For example, surgical repair of a cruciate rupture in the knee can cause the joint to operate less smoothly, leading to cartilage erosion, pain, and lameness.

Pets can mask arthritis in the early stages, but as cartilage damage progresses, they may show signs of discomfort. Typical behavioural changes due to arthritis include:

The pet is noticeably stiff in the mornings.
The dog refuses to jump up into the car.
The dog no longer seems to enjoy long walks.
The cat no longer jumps up to sit on the sunny windowsill.
The dog or cat looks a bit wobbly in the back legs at times.

If you or your vet suspects that your pet is suffering from arthritis, your vet may recommend an X-ray to assess the damage to the affected joint. In severe cases, joint replacement surgery (e.g., hip replacement) may be an option.

Alternatively, the vet may simply prescribe some anti-inflammatory tablets or joint supplement products on a trial basis and ask you to assess if the pet seems to be more comfortable while receiving the medication.

The medications commonly used for arthritis can be categorized as anti-inflammatory or nutraceutical dietary supplements. Most anti-inflammatory products are prescribed in tablet form for either short-term use, when the pet is in significant pain, or for long-term use at a lower dose. These medications help to reduce joint inflammation and pain, but they cannot reverse joint damage.