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Arthritis in Dogs and Cats: What You Need to Know

A common thing we hear in the clinic is “my pet is getting old.” Often, as pets age, they get less active, and we assume it’s because they are getting old – but it’s not always due to age alone. Like people, dogs and cats commonly develop arthritis, which can make movement painful and lead to decreased activity. This happens gradually over time, so the signs of arthritis are often subtle yet progressive.


So, what exactly is osteoarthritis (OA)?

Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the joints, impairs a pet’s ability to move easily and lowers a pet’s quality of life.


OA can’t be cured, but the disease can be slowed, especially if caught early.


How many pets get OA

OA affects up to 35% of all dogs and 80% of dogs over 8 years old. And size doesn’t matter: larger dogs may be more prone to getting OA, but any size dog can develop the disease.


Arthritis is also common in cats. Studies have shown 61% of cats over 6 years of age and 90% of cats over 12 years of age suffer from the disease—often in silence. As all cat owners know, cats are really good at hiding signs of disease!


Isn’t it just old pets who get OA?

We often think of arthritis as a disease that develops as pets age, but that’s not always the case. In fact, cats and dogs of almost any age can develop OA.


Take note: OA may become more noticeable in pets as they get older.


What causes OA?

OA can be caused by wear and tear on the joints, but in dogs, it’s more often the result of developmental joint disease or injuries. Lifestyle factors, such as weight, can also play a role in the development of OA.


In cats, the cause of OA is less clear, but the disease causes the same pain and inflammation as it does in dogs.


How do I know if my pet has OA?

You can watch for any potential behaviour or physical changes associated with OA. If your pet is older, don’t assume that any changes are only due to your pet’s age.


Signs of OA-associated pain in dogs and cats include changes in mobility, activity, or sociability. These changes may be subtle.


Osteoarthritis is a painful, progressive disease. The earlier we catch it, the more we can do to help your pet—and even potentially slow down the disease.


In dogs, signs of arthritis include:

  • Slow to sit down or stand up
  • Limping
  • Favouring a leg
  • Lagging on walks
  • Slow to get up from a seated or lying position
  • Trouble jumping onto/off the sofa/bed or into/out of the car
  • Hesitant to go up or down stairs
  • Sleeping more
  • Eating less
  • Hiding or avoiding contact with other pets or family members
  • Irritability, especially when handled or approached
  • Chewing, licking, or biting painful areas
  • Lack of interest in playing
  • Slowing down on walks


In cats, signs of arthritis include:

  • Making small jumps instead of a big leap to get up onto a table or countertop
  • Reluctance to jump from heights
  • Difficulty getting into or out of the litter box
  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • Trouble with or lack of grooming
  • Hesitant to go up or down stairs
  • Awkward movements (less graceful than normal)
  • Hiding or avoiding contact with other pets or family members
  • Changes in mood or tolerance of being handled (irritability)
  • Sleeping more
  • Eating less
  • Lack of interest in playing
  • Muscle loss (atrophy) in the hind limbs


You can use these checklists to help spot OA pain in your dog or cat—and please share the results with us!

Can I help prevent my pet from getting arthritis?


There are some steps you can take to help reduce the development of arthritis or help pets that already have it:

  • Keep your pet at a healthy weight or, if needed, help them lose weight.Losing as little as 6% of their body weight can significantly reduce pain in overweight pets.
  • Track your pet’s body condition score (BCS). We can help you using these BCS scales for dogs and cats.
  • Make sure your pet gets enough low-impact exercise, such as walking.
  • Feed your pet a set portion of food divided in meals through the day (avoid free feeding).
  • Ask us how much to feed your dog or cat each day. The amount can differ significantly, depending on your individual pet and which food you are feeding.
  • Ask us whether your pet could benefit from a special veterinary diet or supplement. We can recommend foods that will keep your pet feeling full while they are losing weight and provides joint support supplementation.


How else can I help my arthritic pets?


Although OA can’t be cured, your pet doesn’t have to live with the pain from arthritis. We have many options to help pets with OA.


Keep in mind that younger pets and those with early OA may not show obvious signs of the disease, such as limping. The sooner we detect the disease, the more we can do to help your cat or dog with OA.


When you come into Vet Mobile Plus for your pet’s arthritis screening, your veterinarian will perform an OA exam on your dog or cat. If your pet has arthritis, we’ll work with you to determine the best OA management plan for you and your pet.


Make an appointment today  for your pet’s OA screening exam at our animal hospital in Montreal, QC. And don’t hesitate to contact us at 514-995-0912 if you have any questions or concerns about your pet.

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