Arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is a common condition in middle aged to older dogs and cats. As we go into the winter months, it is important to be aware of the signs of arthritis as this is when our pets suffer most.


Arthritis is very commonly left undiagnosed and untreated as many owners just assume that their pet is “getting old” and that there is nothing that can be done to help.   


What is arthritis?

Arthritis occurs when there is damage to the cartilage lining and changes to the joint fluid surrounding a joint (where two bones meet) which leads to changes in the underlying bone. The bone can proliferate, forming spurs and roughened regions which reduce the ability of the joint to perform its normal range of movements. Any joints can be affected, though the hips, knees and elbows are most often the culprit.


Arthritis can begin after trauma to a joint. This may just be due to the general wear and tear of life, or may be due to a prior injury (eg. a ruptured cruciate ligament). In some situations, younger animals may show signs of osteoarthritis. This is usually due to poor conformation of the joints due to conditions such as hip dysplasia.


What are some signs to look out for?

  • Stiffness in the legs (especially in the morning, after heavy exercise or after a long sleep)
  • Reduced activity or reluctance to walk or play
  • Reluctance to get up when lying down
  • Limping, particularly after exercise
  • Difficulty climbing stairs or jumping into cars or onto furniture
  • Licking or chewing at joints
  • Personality changes eg snapping / biting when certain areas or joints are touched

What should I do if I think my pet has arthritis?

If you are concerned, please book in for an appointment and one of the veterinarians can assess your dog or cat for the presence of arthritis. In some situations, we may need to do further testing such as x-rays to rule out other problems.


What are the treatment options available to my pet?

There are many ways to approach the treatment of arthritis in dogs and cats. No treatment will result in a cure, but pain and discomfort can be effectively controlled and managed. Once we have assessed the severity of the condition, the veterinarian will likely recommend several of the following treatment options.  


Weight loss

If your pet is overweight, there is an unnecessary increase in the load the joints must bear, thus accelerating the damage to the cartilage and adding to pain and discomfort. As it may be difficult to increase exercise in an arthritic animal, weight loss should be primarily achieved through dietary restriction.  


Keep warm and comfortable

Arthritic pain can be reduced by access to soft bedding, ideally off the ground and out of a draught.


Exercise for dogs

Exercise should be performed in moderation. An arthritic dog will not cope well with strenuous exercise but it is important to continue with gentle regular exercise to prevent greater stiffness and muscle wastage. Swimming is an excellent way to maintain muscle mass but reduce the load on the joints.  



These are additions to the diet that have a beneficial long term effect, however it will usually take at least three months before their effect is evident. The main arthritis products contain glucosamine which stimulates cartilage production and chondroitin which inhibits cartilage damage. Essential fatty acids also help reduce inflammation, therefore fish oils are also considered beneficial. Please ask us about the commercial diets and supplements we have available.  



This is a drug which protects cartilage by stopping it from degrading and stimulating cartilage healing, as well as improving blood supply and the amount of joint fluid available to the joint. It is best used early in the progression of arthritis. It involves an injection by a veterinarian once weekly for four treatments.  


Acupuncture and trigger point therapy

This initially involves an assessment by one of our trained veterinarians, Dr Pam Short or Dr Mark Hocking. Treatment course will depend on the severity of the condition, though the pet usually visits weekly initially and then this reduces in frequency as required. 


Anti-inflammatory medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication provides instant relief by reducing swelling and inflammation in the joint. Before using long-term, we ideally like to perform some blood tests to ensure that your pet has adequate liver and kidney function to metabolise the drug. These are prescription only medicines and require a consultation with a veterinarian. In severe cases of arthritis, we may use a more powerful steroid anti-inflammatory. DO NOT give human-pain killers to dogs or cats as they react very differently to these medications and they can result in severe side effects.


Arthritis is a painful and progressive disease which can severely impact on your pet’s quality of life. Luckily, we have a number of treatment options available to us which can make your pet a lot happier and more comfortable.  Please feel free to contact us with more information or advice.