Many people suffer from arthritis, but pets also commonly develop this painful joint disease. While arthritis mainly affects older pets, the disease can start developing at a young age, and you need to understand the signs, treatment, and prevention methods for this debilitating condition. Our Kauai Veterinary Clinic team shares five facts you need to know about pet arthritis.  

#1: Osteoarthritis is common in cats and dogs

Various arthritis types exist, but the most common type that affects pets is osteoarthritis (OA). According to some estimates, OA affects 20% of dogs (i.e., one in five) and between 40% and 92% of cats. Because many pets don’t receive routine veterinary care, the total numbers are likely much higher. OA is a degenerative, inflammatory disease that results from joint cartilage erosion (i.e., loss). OA causes progressively more pain as your pet’s joint cartilage deteriorates, and bone-on-bone grinding occurs, because the the joint bones have no protective cushion.

#2: Early arthritis signs are often subtle in pets

Identifying an affected pet’s signs early in the arthritis disease process can be difficult, because animals tend to mask their discomfort. Most pets don’t show obvious arthritis pain signs until the disease has progressed, when they can no longer ignore their pain. Arthritis signs can vary, but pets’ most common behavior changes include:

  • Limping or difficulty moving
  • Decreased activity level
  • Reluctance to exercise or play
  • Pain or discomfort when touched
  • Joint swelling 
  • Stiffness after rest

#3: Early intervention can improve your pet’s quality of life.

The earlier our Kauai Veterinary Clinic team diagnoses your pet’s arthritis, the more quickly you can begin managing your furry pal’s pain. To determine whether your cat has arthritis, we will perform a thorough physical examination to look for the following:

  • Lameness
  • Gait, posture, or sitting position changes
  • Difficulties sitting or getting up
  • Swollen or thickened joints
  • Crepitus (i.e., joint clicking sounds when moving)
  • Pain on joint palpation 
  • Decreased joint range of motion 

We may recommend blood work to rule out other conditions and X-rays to assess your pet’s soft tissue structures (e.g., ligaments, menisci) and joint bone changes. These diagnostic tests can indicate affected joints’ degeneration severity and guide your pet’s treatment plan. While arthritis cannot be reversed or cured, appropriate management can slow the progression and help relieve your pet’s pain, enabling them to lead a normal life. 

#4: Multimodal treatment is the best way to manage your pet’s arthritis

Many treatments can ease your pet’s discomfort and slow disease progression, and a multimodal approach is the most effective method to help manage your furry pal’s arthritis. As the disease progresses, other therapies may become better options for keeping your pet comfortable and mobile. Your pet’s treatment plan will combine pain control and methods to prevent disease progression, including:

  • Pain medication — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories ([NSAIDs] e.g., Rimadyl) can decrease your pet’s inflammation and pain.  
  • Joint supplements — Supplements (e.g., chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids) may alleviate your pet’s joint pain and rebuild and maintain cartilage, which is essential for healthy joints.
  • Weight loss — Because it alleviates the excess joint pressure, weight loss is the best way to help reduce your overweight pet’s arthritis pain.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy can improve joint range of motion and flexibility, and help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Surgery — For pets with abnormal joint formation, such as hip dysplasia, surgery may improve their joint function, and help alleviate pain.
  • Alternative therapies — Laser therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care can provide nonpharmaceutical pain relief. Ask our Kauai Veterinary Clinic team if alternative therapies are right for your pet.
  • Lifestyle modifications — You can help your pet maintain their confidence and mobility and prevent fall-related injuries at home by installing pet ramps, stairs to sofa and chair seats, harnesses, and nonslip rugs. 

#5: Weight management and exercise can reduce your pet’s arthritis risk 

While arthritis can’t always be prevented, proper nutrition and exercise are highly effective at keeping pets at a healthy weight and reducing their joint stress. To manage your pet’s weight effectively, follow these tips:

  • Calories — Use a calorie calculator for dogs or cats to determine your pet’s daily energy requirements, and feed your pet appropriately to ensure they maintain an ideal weight.
  • Treats — Treats should make up no more than 10% of your pet’s daily calorie intake. Rather than feeding your pet processed treats that are full of fat, sugar, and calories, offer them healthy options such as fresh veggies, lean meats, and small fruit pieces.
  • Exercise — In addition to eating a healthy diet at the correct amount, your pet needs a minimum of 15 minutes of daily exercise to maintain an ideal weight and body condition. 

Ensure your pet doesn’t suffer in silence if they display arthritis signs. To help relieve your pet’s pain, schedule their appointment with our Kauai Veterinary Clinic team.