We know that arthritis can be an incredibly painful and debilitating health problem, and we also know that it can do a lot of damage to your joints. If you have arthritis, you’re probably already aware of how important it is to detect early symptoms so that you can intervene quickly.
But did you know that our furry friends can get arthritis too? That’s right—our pets also suffer from arthritis and it can be just as painful for them as it is for us. If your pet starts showing symptoms of arthritis, you’ll want to take care of them quickly because if left untreated this painful disease process can lead to permanent and life-changing situations.
In this article, we’re going to look closely at the symptoms of arthritis in pet animals, how to prevent this painful disease process and how to relieve the pain that your pet may suffer because of it.
What are the Symptoms of Arthritis in Pets?
Most of us know that it's not good to be overweight. We also know that being overweight is one of the most important risk factors for arthritis that you can change.
This is because those extra pounds put stress on the joints, especially the joints in the legs. And, while dogs and cats can have joint problems at any age, arthritis most commonly affects middle to older aged animals.
Due to problems with conformation, dogs can start seeing arthritis at a relatively young age compared to humans. Most cats, on the other hand, will start to have arthritic symptoms by about age 10 (and younger if they are overweight).
One of the biggest mistakes that owners make is to confuse arthritis symptoms with age-related symptoms their pet might have or overlook the symptoms altogether, so knowing what they are can be very helpful for your pet. Those signs and symptoms include:
- Your pet is much less active than usual
- They are refusing to go on walks
- When walking, their hips sway or they appear to be in pain
- When getting up they move slowly or have great difficulty
- They struggle when getting into the car or on jumping on a couch
- Hesitation when confronted with steps
- They are constantly licking their paws
- They don’t sit but instead lie down all the time
The truth is, pets can’t talk and most will go about their daily routine even if they have a bit (or a lot) of discomfort. it’s imperative that you take a regular, close look at how they move so that you can note any changes to their gait (the way they walk) and other movements. If you do notice that they’re moving strangely, slowly or differently, bring this to the attention of your veterinarian.
To check for limping, stand next to your dog or cat as they walk away from you. What we’re looking for is a shorter stride on one side and another side that is longer. Another sign is if the back end is not swinging as much as the opposite side. You may also see them hesitate to put weight on one leg or observe that the affected leg is being held up for an extended period of time.
If your pet has difficulty getting up or down stairs or jumping onto furniture, this could be an indication of a problem in their rear legs. Difficulty with these tasks could be due to pain in the hips, thighs or knees.
When Is the Best Time to Treat Your Pet for Arthritis?
If you're a pet owner, one of your biggest fears is that your dog, cat, or other pet will get arthritis. You're not alone—arthritis is a common condition in humans and animals alike. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to help protect your pet's joints from arthritis, both before it starts and after.
For one thing, make sure they get plenty of exercise. This might mean going on long walks at least three times per week or taking them to the dog park so they can run around with other dogs. They'll probably love you even more for it!
If you notice that your pet seems to be getting stiffer or limping a bit more than usual, don't wait for it to worsen—take them to the vet right away! They might need some extra protection for their joints if they've been diagnosed with arthritis already.
What Can Happen if Arthritis is Left Untreated?
Here is a list of the negative health situations that can occur if your pet’s arthritis is left untreated:
- Massive inflammation can occur
- The inflammation leads to the release of prostaglandins which can cause even more pain
- Chronic pain leads to muscle degeneration due to lack of movement
- Lack of movement leads to cognitive (brain and intelligence) decline
- Their nervous system become hyper-sensitized and can lead to resistance of pain medications, so they suffer even more
We know that arthritis can be painful, but it can also be life threatening. When left untreated, your pet can experience loss of control over their bodily functions leading to potential bladder infections and even death. Because they are in so much pain they might not eat or drink enough to sustain themselves.
How to treat and protect joints from arthritis
Weight Management Leading to Weight Loss
Being overweight can be super harmful to your pet's health in a number of ways, including arthritis. When a pet is suffering from arthritis and they are overweight, they will suffer even more.
Being overweight can also be a cause of arthritis because it puts extra, unneeded stress on the joints, bones, cartilage, etc.
That's why multiple studies have shown that simply lowering your pet's weight will increase its ability to move and thus the quality of its everyday life.
Healthy bones, joints, and muscles is important for your pet’s mobility and overall health.
One of the best ways to improve your pet’s ability to move and function is through therapeutic or controlled exercise. This can greatly improve their muscle strength, decrease their pain and even lower their need for arthritis medication.
You’ll want to talk to your vet about the best course of action and also note that getting dogs to exercise is much easier than cats (no offense cat lovers.)
Changing Your Pet’s Environment
If your pet has arthritis, you will want to make sure that their environment is as comfortable as possible. Certain conditions like extreme cold and rapid weather changes can worsen the symptoms of arthritis.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to make your pet's environment more comfortable and safe.
- Make sure that their bed is dry and placed in a space that’s warm and cozy
- Purchase a bed that’s well-padded and soft
- Make sure that the floor around their bed is non-slippery to prevent falls
- Use carpet runners on wood floors
- Reduce or eliminate stairs
- Use ramps to reduce the work needed to get in a car or up onto a bed or sofa
- Avoid excessive play, especially with other animals
Veterinarian Controlled Diets
Several veterinarian-created, controlled diets that contain ingredients that reduce inflammation, help cartilage regrow, and protect joints from further damage have been developed over the years.
These diets are high in omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, and green-lipped mussel, just like their human counterparts. The results of a controlled veterinary diet vary from pet to pet, but the results have been quite good, with some pets showing improvement in a very short period of time.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
When searching for an omega-3 fatty acid supplement for your pet make sure to find one that is sourced from cold-water fish. How it’s packaged is important as well. It must be dark to protect the omega-3 fatty acid from light and temperature changes, which can damage their molecules and lower their effectiveness.
As mentioned above, you will also find omega-3 fatty acids in many vet controlled diets and so, if your pet is already on this type of diet, extra supplementation might not be necessary.
In studies on both humans and animals, Omega-3 fatty acids have shown amazing results when used to fight the symptoms of arthritis. In fact, they’re one of the best treatments for protecting your pet’s joints from arthritis and are considered by many veterinarians to be one of the top choices for treatment.
The pain your pet feels as a result of inflammation can be reduced with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
As we mentioned earlier, when your pet’s joints are inflamed it can lead to even more damage to the joints, cartilage, and bone. In order to lower inflammation and keep this from happening as quickly, anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed by veterinarians.
As with humans, there are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are available for pets and will reduce inflammation as well as the pain it can cause or exacerbate.
There have been great strides in this class of medication over the last couple of decades that have made them safer for your pets. Although, in some cases, a particular animal may have another medical condition that prevents them from being used. For this reason, before using NSAIDs, a full medical exam and workup should be performed by your local vet.
Pentosan Polysulphate Sodium
Pentosan polysulphate sodium, also known as cartrophen, has been shown to alleviate arthritis symptoms in a variety of ways. For starters, it significantly reduces inflammation and thus pain. It also improves blood supply to the joints and adds a layer of protection to the cartilage, both of which are critical.
Cartrophen has demonstrated an incredible response in pets, with up to an 80% effectiveness rate. Following a specific treatment protocol, the drug is administered by injection under the skin (subcutaneous), with results typically visible after a few weeks. Even better, when the recommended dose is followed, side effects have been minimal.
Nutraceuticals are foods that contain ingredients that improve health, and their usage is on the rise. Although the scientific evidence is a bit lacking in this area, many vets believe that neutraceuticals like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are helpful, especially when your pet is first showing signs of arthritis (and for use in prevention). One of the reasons that they are thought to work is that they help the cartilage of the joints to repair itself better and maintain itself better as well.
Protecting your pet's joints from arthritis is something every caring pet owner should know-how, and when, to do. Early detection and treatment are vital, as well as feeding your dog the right food, making sure they get adequate exercise, keeping their weight under control, and giving them a warm, dry bed to sleep in every night. If you do, you'll be rewarded by a pet that's active and happy for many years!
Products to Support Arthritis Care