Does My Pet Have Arthritis?

Dogs and cats age much faster than people. And, although such a short life should be spared the pain and discomfort of age-related deterioration, pets suffer from degenerative joint disease (i.e., arthritis) at an alarmingly high rate.

Fortunately, identifying and addressing arthritis pain can help your pet live comfortably for many years to come. If you’ve wondered about your aging pet’s aches and pains, check out this helpful guide, and then schedule an appointment at Village Veterinary Hospital.

The why behind the “ow”—pet arthritis explained

If we break down the term arthritis, we find its definition—”arthro” means joint, and “-itis” means inflammation. Arthritis can occur anywhere that two bones meet and articulate, including the hip, stifle (i.e., knee), ankle (i.e., tarsus), and wrist (i.e., carpus), or anywhere along the spinal vertebrae from the neck to the tail. 

In a normal joint, each bone end is protected by cartilage—a tough but smooth connective tissue that can withstand a great deal of pressure and force. Inside the joint capsule, cartilage is bathed in a thick fluid that lubricates the joint surface and allows smooth, frictionless motion. When arthritis occurs, cartilage deteriorates or thins, destructive enzymes are released, joint fluid dries up, and the body forms hard spiky bone where the smooth cartilage was once—making movement rough and painful. Once established, arthritis causes a debilitating cycle of pain, weakness, reduced mobility, muscle loss, and weight gain that negatively affect a pet’s quality of life.

Recognizing arthritis in pets

Many pets live with undiagnosed arthritis every day, because pets naturally hide pain and weakness and learn to adapt to their discomfort over time. And, because arthritis often—but not always—coincides with advanced age, pet owners often dismiss their pet’s physical and behavioral changes as simply “getting old” and do not seek treatment. 

At Village Veterinary Hospital, we know that undiagnosed pain and discomfort can lead to additional health problems (e.g., weight gain, orthopedic disease, depression, behavior changes) and unnecessarily shorten a pet’s life. That’s why we take a proactive approach to arthritis and its management, which includes:

  • Early diagnosis — If detected early, we can limit or halt arthritis progression and potentially reverse joint damage.
  • Pain management — Controlling your pet’s pain is essential for their quality of life.
  • Lifestyle modifications — Reducing the demand on your pet’s joints prevents flare-ups and lowers injury risk.
  • Low-impact exercise — Safe physical activity promotes a healthy weight, improves joint range-of-motion, and can significantly reduce muscle loss.

Your pet doesn’t have to suffer from chronic joint pain—effective treatment is available. To determine if your pet is suffering from arthritis, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is my pet slowing down?
    Arthritic pets may appear less enthusiastic about normal physical activity, such as walking, hiking, or playing fetch. Alternatively, pets may be eager to participate initially, but then display reduced stamina—lagging behind or stopping after only a few repetitions. Because repeatedly damaging a weakened joint can result in orthopedic injury, always stop activity when your pet is tired.
  • Is my pet reluctant to use stairs, get on or off the furniture, or jump into or out of my vehicle?
    Incline activities, such as climbing or jumping up, require pets to shift their weight to the rear limbs, while decline activities, including descending stairs or jumping down, place significant force on the neck, shoulder, elbows, and wrists. Arthritic pets may hesitate or refuse to perform these activities or change their techniques to mitigate their discomfort. Changes may include:

    • Resting halfway up or down a staircase
    • Descending or ascending stairs diagonally to reduce the angle
    • Stutter-stepping or crouching before jumping
    • Taking an intermediate step (e.g., jumping to a chair before jumping up to the table top)
    • Changing their behavior pattern (e.g., no longer sleeping on the bed or sofa, avoiding slick floors).

  • Is my pet standing, sitting, or walking differently?
    Postural changes can indicate hidden pain, as pets adapt their physical stance or movement patterns to avoid discomfort. These adaptations can vary from subtle to severe, and commonly include:
    • Shifting weight forward, backward, or to one side
    • Limping
    • Standing with a rounded or hunched back
    • Sitting on a hip rather than centered over the pelvis
    • Carrying the head low (i.e., below the shoulders)

  • Is my pet no longer interested in being petted, or physical interaction?
    Arthritic pets may correlate physical contact with discomfort, and therefore shy away from previously enjoyable activities, such as head-petting, ribcage thumping, or being scratched over the hips or hind end. Never force an uncomfortable pet to be held or endure physical affection, as they may bite or scratch, or be injured as they attempt to escape.
  • Have my pet’s grooming habits changed?
    Arthritic pets may neglect their personal hygiene, because a stiff spine or limb prevents them from reaching the area. Assist these pets with regular brushing and by keeping them clean and dry. Ask your groomer about a sanitary trim to keep the urogenital area neat and tidy.Alternatively, overgrooming can also be a pain sign. Frequent or obsessive licking or chewing over a joint can indicate pain or discomfort. Left untreated, these areas can progress to a bacterial infection.

  • Is my pet grouchy or unusually irritable?
    Sudden uncharacteristic behavior changes—especially in older pets—are often because of a medical condition. If your pet is behaving aggressively toward human or animal family members, promptly schedule an appointment at Village Veterinary Hospital.

While we can’t stop the hands of time, a proactive approach to arthritis diagnosis and management can extend your pet’s quality and quantity of life. Don’t make your pet settle for “getting old.” Schedule your dog or cat’s examination at Village Veterinary Hospital and help them live comfortably again.

By |2022-12-13T02:01:23+00:00December 12th, 2022|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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