Arthritis in Cats and Dogs

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As the temperature starts to drop you may be starting to see changes in your pet’s daily antics. As we can appreciate it is hard to get out of bed on these cold morning, but have you thought there could be a reason why your beloved pet is slower than normal and what was once a quick morning routine, has now turned into you setting your alarm clock 20 minutes earlier. Did you know arthritis is one of the most common ailments affecting middle aged and senior dogs and cats. Arthritis simply means ‘joint’ and ‘inflammation’. It can be a source of chronic pain and negatively affect their quality of life. During arthritis the cartilage deteriorates, and the synovial fluid loses its lubricating properties so that movement of bones become less smooth, leading to discomfort and reduced mobility. Unlike dogs where you would expect to have some lameness, cats tend not to limp so picking up signs of joint pain can be difficult.  However an experience vet and good physical exam would be able to identify signs associated with arthritis.


Arthritis and Cats

Arthritis in Cats - vet - brookvale - NSW

Like in dogs, arthritis in cats is a result of ongoing wear and tear and instability in the joints. In cats the common joints affected are the elbows, hips and spine but any joint can be afflicted. Previous studies have shown between 60-90% of cats aged over 12 years show signs of arthritis. That is why it is important for owners of middle-age to elderly cats to regularly visit a vet for a senior’s health check.

Here at Vet-O we offer a seniors health check which covers a thorough discussion about you and your cat at home,  their body condition, what food they eat, joint supplements if any, how active your cat is, and what they can’t do but once could. It may include a blood test to check liver and kidney function. There will be full body health check, and finally finishing off with the vet’s conclusion and recommendations, going forward, to ensure your cat is pain free and kept in tip-top condition.


Recognising Arthritis in Cats

  • Reduced movement - inability or reluctance to get down from or up onto furniture including regular sleeping area. You may find cats in unusual places because their reduced mobility has stopped them going where they once could.

  • Decreased activity levels - less likely to head outside, play, or use a scratching post resulting in their nails becoming longer faster. This may be evident when they sit in your lap and scratch your thighs before they get comfortable. You may even see thick unsharpened nails.

  • Changes in grooming behaviour - reduced grooming due to pain resulting in matted/scruffy coat. Or over grooming in painful areas, can result in self trauma or skin disease.

  • Personality change - less tolerant of being patted or brushed especially over hind quarters and back. Once happy cats may become grumpy or much more reactive during cuddles.

Arthritis in cats can be difficult to identify as they are largely sedentary animals. Owners may just notice a general slowing down over time and put it down to their pet getting older.

Arthritis and Dogs


As our dogs age, things that were once second nature become an effort. Today, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and companion animal care, many dogs are living to a ripe old age. On the downside, that longevity also increases the odds that they’ll suffer from some age-related disease such as arthritis. There are several types of canine arthritis, but we are addressing the most common - osteoarthritis. Veterinarians often rely on a dog’s pain response to joint palpation, detection of crepitus (a crackling or grating sensation felt within the joint’s motion), observation of gait and the presence of muscle atrophy (muscle loss) to diagnose arthritis. An x-ray may be used to confirm suspicion of arthritis. Not all dogs will vocalize when they’re in pain, but a dog whose muscles are atrophied and limbs are stiff, who require assistance to rise, and does little more than teeter outside to go to the bathroom are more than likely to be in pain.

Any dog over the age of 5 years can have a seniors health check. At Vet-O Brookvale we are more than happy to chat to the owner about your pet and what you should be thinking about as your dogs grows older and older. During our canine senior health check, as mentioned previously physical attributes will be taken into consideration as well as discussion about your dog at home and physical activities. Topics such as weight, food, joint supplements and what has changed about your dog as they have gotten older. Once the consultation has finished the vet then discusses their findings.


Recognising Arthritis in Dogs

  • Reluctance to walk, climb stairs, jump or play - everyday activities have now become a big effort. Changes may depend on which joints have the worst arthritis.

  • Limping/lameness - generally all four limbs are still functional to walk, but body weight is shifted from one side to the other reducing weight from the affected limb.

  • Lagging behind on walks – previously energetic dogs may stop half-way on walks or be extremely stiff that night or the following day.

  • Pain or stiffness when getting up or down - after resting for a while, the body struggles to use all its limbs to move into a standing position. Older dogs may slip on wooden or tiled floors.  

  • Yelping or growling when touched - very sensitive to any contact made directly or close to the sore area.

  • A change in personality - aggression when normally good natured.

  • Licking an area of the body obsessively - hair loss and colour change of the coat can be seen. Lick granulomas (red hairless swellings) may develop over joints. 

Various veterinary treatments are available to manage arthritis in your pets. The best options will depend on various factors. Is your pet overweight, age, severity of signs, progression of the disease and are there any other existing health problems? All of which are important to making sure they have been appropriately diagnosed before starting a treatment plan which may include:

  • Weight Management – many owners are not aware that their pet is overweight. If they have arthritis and are overweight, this puts unnecessary pressure on the joints and increases inflammation and pain. Weight management in arthritic dogs should be done mainly through diet and calorie restriction as increased exercise may result in a flare-up.

  • Supplements - are used widely in human and animal treatment for osteoarthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may have some anti-inflammatory effect and be important for joint health. As are other supplements such as those found in green-lipped mussel extract. Pentosan polysulphate injections may also have anti-inflammatory effect and help maintain cartilage health.

  • Pain Relief – lots of animals hide their pain and when given pain relief, owners often report they start to act like a puppy or kitten again. Mainstays of pain management are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories but other pain relief may be added when discomfort is high.

  • Adjunctive Therapy – in addition to the staples listed above, small modifications in animals home life can help. These include:

    • Providing ramps instead of stairs, or to get into the car

    • Having a well cushioned bed instead of lying directly on the floor

    • Gentle massage or hot-compress around effected joints

    • Swimming in warm water may help increase muscle mass without causing a flare-up

Arthritis is a common condition for our aging population of pets. Diagnosis should be by an experienced professional, and treatment should be tailored to each individual.

If you have any question or need any assistance if your dog or cat is experience arthritis, fell free to get in touch with us.