Signs Of Pet Arthritis And How To Provide Care

As your pets grow older, they can experience different signs of aging and, among these, arthritis is quite common. Just like in humans, cats and dogs can experience the pain and discomfort associated with arthritis. As pet parents, it can be difficult for us to realize something is wrong with our furry family members. Fortunately, our animal hospital in Fort Collins is here to help pet parents with diagnostic care, treatment, and veterinary services for arthritic pets.

Girl with pet dog

Causes of Pet Arthritis

Arthritis is a generic medical term used to describe changes to the joints. In normal joints, there is a layer of cartilage in between the bones, along with natural lubricants to keep the joint moving and bending correctly.

Over time, the cartilage can degrade and wear away. This will result in the bones rubbing together, which will create irritation and inflammation in the affected joints. In other cases, arthritis could develop after an injury to ligaments and cartilage around the joints.

The misalignment of the bones can also create a condition where the cartilage is worn away much faster than the pet’s body can repair it. This will create stress points from the misaligned bones. In turn, the added stress on the joint can lead to inflammation and discomfort for the cat or dog.

Typically, arthritis is associated with older pets, much like we experience as we get older. However, pets can experience early-onset arthritis in certain situations. For instance, pets that are hunting or show animals might experience an injury to one of their limbs. If the pet does not receive proper care, treatment and rehabilitation, arthritis could develop.

Healthy dog and cat

Signs of Pet Arthritis

Cats and dogs do remarkably well at hiding and masking their pain. Rather, pet parents should look for changes in behavior as a potential sign of pet arthritis. Some of the more typical changes you may notice could include one or more of the following:

  • There is a “stiffness” in movement as your pets walk.

Stiffness in movements could indicate your pets have arthritis. Normally the stiffness subsides the more they move.

  • Your pets are favoring one leg over another.

If your pets are limping or leaning more on one foot than the other, it could mean they are experiencing pain in the other leg from arthritis.

  • Your cats or dogs seem to be more cautious when they are lying down and getting up.

If your pets are taking longer to lie down or seem to have some difficulties in getting up after a nap, they could be compensating for pain—possibly from arthritis.

dog in pain

  • You notice your cats or dogs are sleeping in a new position.

When humans hurt their back, or are experiencing discomfort in a joint from an injury or arthritis, we will try out different sitting and sleeping positions trying to find one that is the least uncomfortable. Your pets are doing the same thing. So, if they are sleeping in some weird body contortion configuration, it typically signifies they are compensating for pain and discomfort.

  • Your dogs or cats become less interested in things they used to enjoy.

If your dogs won’t play catch or start to object to their daily walks, these could be signs your dogs have arthritis. Cats will not play as often with their favorite toys and will retreat to hiding spots far away from their pet parents.

  • Your pets have difficulties climbing, jumping, and going up and down stairs.

If you notice your cats are not jumping and climbing as high on their kitty condos as they used to or have started sitting at your feet instead of hopping up in your lap, this could mean they are in pain. Dogs might struggle to get into your bed or walk up or down the stairs.

Dog experiencing Artritis

  • There is a noticeable increase in “potty” accidents.

If your pets start going to the bathroom on the carpeting instead of using the litter box or failing to alert you they need to go outside, this could mean they are in pain. The pain could be so extreme they don’t realize they have to use the bathroom until it is too late, resulting in the accident.

  • Your pets lash out at you in a negative manner.

If you are brushing or petting your cats or dogs and they scratch or nip at you, you might have hit a tender and sore spot. Your pets’ reactions are their way to let you know they are in pain and they did not like it when you touched them in those spots.

  • Your cats are meowing loudly or your dogs are whining for no apparent reason.

If your cats or dogs start making noise, and you cannot determine the cause, they could be letting you know they are not happy because they are in pain.

It is worth mentioning, in many ways, cats and dogs are similar to humans in their ability to tolerate pain. Some are better at living with higher levels of pain and discomfort, while others will exhibit signs from the slightest indication of pain.

vet exam

Just because your pets are not exhibiting any of the potential signs of arthritis, it does not necessarily mean they do not have arthritis. Therefore, it is important to keep up on pet wellness exams. For instance, in senior pets, we recommend a wellness checkup twice a year.

  • Interesting Fact: For our pets, an annual wellness exam is the equivalent of a human patient seeing a doctor once every four to five years. With senior pets, bi-annual visits each year would be like seeing your own doctor once every two to two and half years.

Diagnosing Arthritis

If you suspect your cats or dogs have arthritis, then you need to schedule an appointment with a veterinarian in Fort Collins, like here at Advanced Animal Care of Colorado. There are specific tests your veterinarian will perform, like checking the range of motion of limbs or taking x-rays to confirm the presence of arthritis.

Vet performing exam

How to Treat Pet Arthritis

There are several different methods that can be used to treat pet arthritis that range from medications to holistic veterinarian services. Treatment plans are developed on a case-by-case basis, as all pet patients will have their own unique sets of circumstances.

Keeping this in mind, some possible treatment options could include:

  • A change in diet. Most cats and dogs are overweight. The added weight places increased pressure on arthritic joints and amplifies pain levels. Losing a little weight reduces this pressure and helps lower pain levels.
  • An increase in exercise and activities. Exercise and movement can help prevent stiffness and soreness associated with arthritis, although the level and intensity of exercise and activities do need to be monitored and adjusted to fit with the pet patient’s age and abilities.
  • Chinese medicine for pets. Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture treatments are not just for humans anymore. Your dogs or cats can also benefit from these ancient and holistic treatments. For instance, acupuncture has shown it can reduce inflammation and pain caused by arthritis.
  • Rehabilitation and physical therapy for pets. Therapeutic exercises and physical therapy treatments help improve range of motion, promote healing, and could decrease the pain and discomfort caused by arthritis.
  • Prescription medications. There are new advances in arthritis medications being made every single day. In the past several years, we have seen a wider assortment of medicines available for pets suffering from arthritis. If your pets require medication as part of their arthritic care treatment plans, your veterinarian will discuss which ones would be best for your pets.

Vet performing exam on cat

It is evident that treating pet arthritis involves utilizing various treatment methods that provide the best results for the pet patients. The goal of our arthritic treatment plans is to help reduce pain and discomfort while promoting healing, proper weight, and the right amount of exercise in a caring and supportive environment.

If you suspect your pets could be in pain or suffering from arthritis, please feel free to contact Advanced Animal Care of Colorado at 970-818-5054 to schedule a pet wellness exam today!

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