8 Signs Your Cat or Dog May Have Osteoarthritis

October 16th 2020

By Dr. Tara Pugh

Most, if not all, pet owners will have had a pet with arthritis, and it is important to know the signs and management options that are available.
Pets with osteoarthritis (OA) experience pain and inflammation in various joints that interfere with the activities of daily living, especially if they are overweight.

Osteoarthritis is diagnosed through a combination of a thorough physical examination, a palpation (feeling with the fingers to localize pain and determine its intensity), and additional diagnostics including x-rays or other imaging technology.

What causes osteoarthritis?

There is no single cause of OA. There are many factors involved, including:
  • Body conformation (how a dog or cat is built)
  • Body condition/weight (being overweight or obese is highly correlated with OA)
  • Abnormal joint development (e.g. canine hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas)
  • Activity history
  • Injury history (e.g. past fracture, ligament damage, muscle injury, joint infection, damage/erosion of cartilage)
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Nutritional history
In fact, most dogs and cats with OA experience a combination of these factors as it develops and progresses. We now know that just “getting old” is NOT a cause of OA.


Can canine osteoarthrits be prevented?

Allowing a dog to grow slowly as a puppy and maintaining a lean body condition throughout growth and into adulthood, is the most important way to prevent OA. Growth abnormalities and injuries cannot always be predicted, so even our best efforts may not be enough to ward off OA in an older dog.

That said, with slow growth, good nutrition, optimal body condition, and regular exercise the odds of preventing or at least delaying OA are excellent. Your veterinarian will partner with you to create the best plan for your dog.


Are there other signs of osteoarthritis besides difficulty getting up and down?

Dogs and cats can exhibit many different signs when they have OA, and they do not necessarily demonstrate all the same signs all the time. As the owner of the dog or cat, you will need to identify the signs of discomfort that your pet expresses. These are unique to that pet and can often be subtle.

Using these specific signs, you will also be able to decide, with the help of your veterinarian, whether the chosen management plan for your pet is working, or whether other options should be tried or added. Pets rarely vocalize and may tolerate moderate pain without making a sound. This can sometimes make it difficult to determine if your pet is in pain or not. The most common signs owners may notice include:

  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Walking stiffly
  • Lameness in one or more legs
  • Reluctance to go up and/or down stairs
  • Reluctance to jump up or down (onto/off furniture or into/out of a vehicle)
  • Stiff, swollen, or sore joints
  • Reluctance to be touched on some parts of the body
  • Loss of stamina
  • Unexpected aggression towards other animals or towards humans

There is no treatment to reverse or cure arthritis, and it is progressive. All treatment options are aimed at managing the problem, not fixing it.

The best way to offer your dog a pain-free life for as long as possible, is to use several different treatment options together. It is unlikely that one option on its own will be enough, and you should work closely with your veterinarian to determine and adjust this plan as needed.

To find out natural and medical treatments for osteoarthritis, please read our next blog, Treating Osteoarthritis in Your Dog or Cat.

If you have concerns about your pet’s mobility or joint health, give us a call at (403) 615-8016 to make an appointment with one of our veterinarians.

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