Arthritis in pets – How we can help.

Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes chronic pain. 

It affects one in five adult dogs and is even more common among older dogs. Cats can also develop arthritis as they get older, with around 90% of cats over 10 years old developing arthritis in at least one joint!  

Many cases go undiagnosed because owners interpret the subtle changes in their pet to "slowing down" or "getting old". 

Unfortunately, arthritis is a progressive condition and there is no cure. However, you can work with your vet to design a treatment plan that will alleviate pain and slow down the disease’s progression. This enables most pets to live a happy and fulfilling life. 

What causes arthritis? 

Arthritis is often associated with age due to wear and tear on the joints, and all animals can be affected. However, there are other factors that can increase your pet’s risk of developing the condition and at what age. 

These include: 

  • Your pet’s weight. Larger breed dogs and cats, or ones that are overweight, are at higher risk of arthritis; 

  • Their breed. Certain breeds have a higher risk, such as Scottish Fold cats, Labradors, German Shepherds, or dogs with short legs.  

  • How much (and what type of) exercise they do. Too much running, over exercising when they are young, or jumping down a lot can increase their risk. Working dogs are particularly prone to the condition from regularly jumping off the ute or bike onto hard services. 

  • Previous joint injuries. These can often result in arthritis developing later in life. 

Signs to watch out for 

Arthritis can affect any breed of dog as it ages, so owners should look out for any of the following signs:   

  • Limping or stiffness after exercise;  

  • Lagging behind on walks, reduced energy levels, or reluctance to engage in physical activity;  

  • Taking longer to lie down, circling more and showing hesitancy; 

  • Slow to rise, or vocalisation - such as groaning - when lying down or rising; 

  • Difficulty jumping;  

  • Feeling stiff;  

  • Difficulty with stairs; 

  • Difficulty assuming toileting positions, like a male dog having trouble lifting his leg. 

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is recommended to schedule a vet consultation. Early detection, followed up with an effective arthritis management plan, can significantly improve your pet's comfort and wellbeing.  

Visiting the vet 

During a vet appointment, they will ask some questions to assess the impact of the condition on your pet's quality of life. A comprehensive health examination including an orthopaedic assessment will then be conducted.  

With these initial insights, a provisional diagnosis of probable arthritis may be identified. To confirm the diagnosis and rule out other causes, radiography is usually required. In many cases, the vet and yourself may decide to try a treatment trial to see if this will improve your pet’s quality of life. If successful, a treatment plan can then be developed for long-term support of the joints and control of your pet’s discomfort. If they fail to respond to the treatment trial, then it is important to take some X-rays. 

A management plan may include weight control, medication, and controlled exercise.  

The choices of medication for arthritis are increasing all the time and include pain relief, cartilage protective agents, special diets, and joint supplements.  

Working together with your vet, it is possible to tailor a plan designed to suit your dog's specific needs. This will ensure they receive the best possible care to maintain their happiness and quality of life. 


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