Arthritis: Is Your Pet in Pain?

By Dr. Ann Stacker, DVM

Your dog or cat can’t tell you when they’re hurting, which is why it is very important to be “in tune” with even seemingly minor changes in their behavior — often the only sign that something is wrong.

Arthritis in pets, like humans, is very common. It is estimated that in the U.S. osteoarthritis (OA) affects about half of all pets over age seven. In pet OA, the cartilage in joints that is supposed to provide cushioning has given way and the joint fluid is no longer able to provide lubrication. Over time the connective tissue surrounding the joint becomes inflamed and eventually bone rubs against bone.

The joint no longer moves smoothly and can be a source of chronic pain, negatively impacting the quality of life.

The signs of arthritis are often similar to signs of normal aging, leading owners to conclude their pet is simply “getting old” and “slowing down” as opposed to actually experiencing pain. It is also important to note that both cats and dogs tend to hide the signs of pain very effectively, so how can you tell?

Beyond the most obvious symptom of arthritis — a limping pet — there are other signs, including a hunched back posture, difficulty getting up and down, and sleeping more.

Dogs often show less interest in play or walks and a hesitancy to jump. Cats will sometimes be reluctant to go in and out of a litter box or climb and may develop poor grooming habits. Other noticeable indicators in our pets are muscle atrophy, irritability and changes in sociability.

Recognizing these signs of arthritis is the first step to helping your dog or cat stay comfortable as they age.

Though not curable, there are treatment options and ways to prevent further joint damage — the best thing is to keep your pet at a lean weight through regular exercise and a healthy diet. Some therapeutic diets and nutritional supplements formulated specifically for arthritis to reduce inflammation, target pain pathways and support joint health are an important option for addressing pet mobility issues. Additionally, changes in the home such as providing well-padded beds or mats away from cold or drafty areas, adding ramps, rubber stair treads or non-skid rugs on slippery floors can all help as well to ease pressure and wear and tear on deteriorated joints.

At the point where these efforts aren’t enough, it is time to discuss pain medications with your veterinarian. The most effective treatment option is pet-specific nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that can quickly revive the spirits of pets by resolving their pain. While these drugs are similar to human NSAIDs and pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin, never give human pain medications to your cat or dog without speaking to your veterinarian because these products can be toxic and fatal for pets.
With knowledge, love, support and proper care our pets can age gracefully and comfortably.