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Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

Arthiritis is the most common chronic disease process affecting middle to senior age dogs and cats, causing a spectrum of clinical symptoms ranging from mild chronic joint discomfort to severe muscle atrophy and crippling joint pain. However, by following simple lifestyle adjustments and nutritional guidelines, pet owners have the ability to provide relief for and even reverse the debilitating effects of arthritis.

Arthritis (definition): Inflammation of a joint, usually accompanied by pain, swelling, and stiffness, and resulting from infection, trauma, degenerative changes, metabolic disturbances, or other causes. It occurs in various forms, such as bacterial arthritis, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis.

* The type of arthritis associated with age or congenital malformation (eg., hip dysplasia), is osteoarthritis.

Typical Age Of Onset Of Arthritis: Age of onset varies with species and size. Keep in mind, that congenital malformations and/or chronic obesity will lower the age of onset of osteoarthritis in any size or species of animal.

Cats and toy breed dogs weighing 10 pounds or less will not typically beging to show clinical signs of arthritis until approximately 9 years of age. For dogs weighing 11-30 pounds, approximate age of onset of arthritis is 8 years, dogs weighing 30-65 pounds 7 years, dogs weighing 65-85 pounds 6 years, and dogs weighing greater than 85 pounds 5 years.

Early Stage Arthritis: Animal may mildly limp in one or more extremities after prolonged excercise. May be slightly slower than normal to rise after lying down for long periods. Animal may not be able to jump as effectively and may manage going up stairs a bit more slowly than normal.

Treatment – This is the stage of arthritis where holistic remedies will not only be effective in providing the animal relief, but may slow the progression and even reverse the effects of arthritis. If the animal is overweight, this extra weight MUST COME OFF! This is the single most important aspect of arthritis management. Most owners have good intentions in spoiling their pets when fattening them up with excessive food and treats. However, spoiling them in this way has the potential to eventually cripple the animal and shorten its life considerably.

Next, the animal should be placed on a diet that is rich in protein and low in fat.

The increased protein will help to sustain muscle mass for joint support, while the limited fat will keep body fat and excess weight in check. Many high quality senior diets such as Science Diet and Eukanuba fullfill these requirements.

Finally, the animal should be placed on a nutritional joint health supplement fortified with “nutraceuticals” such as glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, omega-3-fatty acids, and anti-oxidants. These nutrients combine to naturally decrease inflammation, increase joint fluid production to provide lubrication and ease of movement, and stimulate the repair of damaged cartilage and other connective tissues. One should be careful when shopping for these supplements. Make sure that the supplement that you choose has the approval of a veterinarian. Pet health supplements are not tightly regulated and many do not have the ingredients that the labels claim.

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Mid Stage Arthritis: Animal consistently and moderately painful in one or more extremities after prolonged excercise. Moderate to advanced difficulty in rising after lying down. Marked difficulty junping, and managing stairs obviously painful – some animals may “bunny hop” up the stairs. Some muscle atrophy (decrease in mass) of muscle may be beginning to show in the thigh and gluteal muscles.

Treatment – Same program as for the early stage arthritis, but, in addition, class IV therapy laser should be considered for these patients. CLICK HERE for more on the use of class IV laser therapy in arthritis patients. In addition to these modalities, at this point, occassional to daily adminstration of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may be necessary for relief. These drugs decrease inflammation and pain within the joints. The NSAID that I typically enjoy the most success with is Previcox in dogs, and Metacam or Ketoprofen in cats. Please do not use these drugs without the guidance of a veterinarian, as they can be dangerous if not administered properly.

Advanced Stage Arthritis: Animal is severly painful to crippled after excercise. Severe difficulty or inability to rise after lying down. Animal cannot jump. Severely impaired or inability to manage stairs. Severe muscle atrophy of thigh and gluteal muscles.

Treatment – Same as for all earlier stages of arthritis, but NSAID may need to be administered daily. NSAID may have to be replaced with cortisone.

End Stage Arthritis: Crippling is so severe that animal is no longer able to rise without help. Animal cannot even posture to void despite treatment and will often void where it lies. Euthanasia is common at this stage.

Treatment – Daily doses of cortisone or euthanasia.


Roger L. Welton, DVM
Founder and Chief Editor,
President, Maybeck Animal Hospital,

Founder, CEO, Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care


Article updated 2/12/2014


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