Does My Pet Have Arthritis and What Should I Do About It

Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative disease that may affect any joint but is commonly found in a pet’s hip, elbow, shoulder, stifle (knee), carpus (wrist), hock (ankle) or intervertebral joints (spine). This occurs when cartilage in the joint is damaged either after a traumatic event, with chronic wear and tear, as seen in athletic animals, or when the joint is congenitally abnormal, such as that seen in animals with hip dysplasia.

When cartilage is damaged, it sets off a cascade of inflammatory changes in the joint that eventually leads to destruction of the cartilage and underlying bone. By the time we see radiographic changes or signs of pain, the damage is already fairly advanced.


Signs of arthritis can be subtle and easy to miss. It often progresses slowly over years and is often misinterpreted as signs of ‘aging’ in our pets.

Signs of Arthritis Include:

  • Reluctance to take walks of usual lengths or ‘slowing down’ on walks
  • Reluctance to run
  • Stiffness, especially when first getting up from rest
  • Difficulty climbing stairs or reluctance to climb in the car or bed
  • Difficulty rising from rest or slow to sit
  • Limping or an abnormal gait
  • Soreness or pain when the affected joint is flexed or extended
  • Acting withdrawn, spending more time in bed and less time playing with family

With appropriate, timely management, our goal in arthritis management is to keep our pets playful and pain free well into their senior years.

What Can You Do For Your Pet?

Weight Reduction – maintaining an ideal, lean body weight in your pet is the most important thing you can do. Ask your veterinarian to assess the body condition of your pet and if your pet is overweight, discuss a weight loss strategy and diet.

Low Impact Exercise – exercise is important to help maintain ideal body weight and to maintain muscle strength. Low impact activities such as walking and swimming keeps a pet active without over stressing the joints.

Nutraceuticals – products containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help to support cartilage structure, prevent further deterioration and suppress inflammation. Glucosamine and chondroitin are components of cartilage and the theory is that by taking these precursors orally, your pet can use them to repair and rebuild cartilage where it is damaged. Glucosamine and chondroitin are extracted from sea mollusks, green lipped mussel, shark skeleton and cattle and are available in tablet, capsule, powder or liquid form.

Cartrophen – this is an injectable chondroprotective agent that helps to slow down the progression of arthritis. We have been using this at Amherst Veterinary Hospital for the past 18 years with fantastic results.

Laser Therapy and Acupuncture – both of these therapies help to alleviate pain without the use of drug therapy and are offered at our veterinary hospital.

Prescription Drugs– there are a variety of NSAIDS, opioids and other analgesics that are commonly used to provide relief from arthritis pain. Each of these drugs can cause side effects so the one best suited for your pet will be determined after a thorough assessment of its health.   Never use over the counter or your own prescription medications on your pet without first discussing this with your veterinarian.

Often the best approach to managing your pet’s arthritis pain is with a combination of the above therapies. A consult with your veterinarian will help you develop a therapy plan that is best suited for your individual pet, taking into account your pet’s overall health status and degree of arthritis and pain.


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