Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Arthritis: Osteoarthritis, Degenerative Joint Disease

Simply put, arthritis explains the inflammation of the joints. Most common among older pets, the condition can be mildly uncomfortable or painfully debilitating. 

The most common type of arthritis is degenerative joint disease, also known as osteoarthritis. It affects roughly 20% of adult dogs in the US, and a whopping 90% of cats over the age of 12. 

What Causes Arthritis in Cats?

Certain breeds are more prone to developing arthritis because of underlying joint problems. 

For example, main coons, Persians and Siamese cats are known to develop hip dysplasia, which is an abnormal development of the hip joints. 

Abyssinians and Devon Rex cats have been known to develop patella luxation, which is the dislocation of the kneecap.

And Scottish folds often experience severe arthritis because of a common cartilage (the squishy stuff that cushions the bones of the joint) abnormality. 

Injuries and trauma can also cause arthritis. If your feline friend breaks a bone, dislocates a hip or shoulder, or suffers any other type of joint injury, the healing process may cause abnormal joint conformation, which can lead to osteoarthritis. 

What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

Certain dogs are predisposed to various joint issues, which can lead to arthritis, like hip or elbow dysplasia, and patella luxation. 

Some large-breed dogs are prone to arthritis, such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds and Rottweilers.

Like cats, dogs can also develop arthritis from ligament or cartilage injuries. The most frequently damaged ligament in dogs is the CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) in the knee. 

Sometimes an infection can cause cartilage and joint tissue to deteriorate. 

Some diseases, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause pain and inflammation of the joints in both dogs and cats. In both cases, an overreaction of the immune system affects multiple joints, ultimately wearing down the cartilage (and eventually the bone) in the joints. 

What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis?

If you see your pet displaying any of the following symptoms, it may be due to arthritis:

  • Difficulty standing up after lying down
  • Difficulty going up stairs 
  • Difficulty jumping onto furniture
  • Taking a narrow stance in the rear limbs
  • Muscle deterioration of the rear limbs
  • Lack of interest in play or exercise
  • Obvious stiffness
  • Changes in grooming behaviour
  • Changes in personality
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression

Symptoms are easier to spot in dogs than in cats. That may be partly due to your cat’s survival instinct to hide the signs of pain. Whatever the reason, keep a close eye on your cat’s behaviour. If you see subtle changes in his mobility, it might be worth a trip to the vet.

How is Arthritis Diagnosed?

Early diagnosis (and treatment) of ligament damage can help prevent or, at the very least, minimize the chance arthritis will occur in the future. 

Diagnosing cats with arthritis is more difficult than diagnosing dogs because they tend to tolerate orthopedic issues better than dogs. It's just in their nature.

Because of his in-born agility, changes to your cat’s range of motion tend to be subtle. Even if you do suspect Fluffy is experiencing some discomfort, it’s likely he’s going to put up a good fight during a vet examination. 

In order to diagnose arthritis, veterinarians often rely solely on the pet parent to explain noticeable symptoms and changes in behaviour.

How is Arthritis Treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help keep your pets comfortable. Treating arthritis is about pain management and slowing the deterioration of the joint tissue. 

The most effective way to “treat” arthritis in both cats and dogs is with diet and nutritional supplements

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Weight management is also critical. While there is no direct evidence to suggest that obesity causes arthritis, less weight on weakening joints can reduce pain and slow deterioration.

Feed your pet foods that contain natural anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants and Omega fatty acids, such as:

  • Fish
  • Eggs 
  • Blueberries, strawberries
  • Pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • Spinach, kale 
  • Yogurt
  • Sweet potatoes

Low-impact exercise can help to maintain muscle and help to support the joints. It can also help your pet shed those pesky pounds.

In some cases, your vet may prescribe a medication for pain relief

For pets with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, immunosuppressive drugs may be an effective treatment.

Think your pet may have arthritis?
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