Have you noticed your four-legged friend walking a little more slowly or hesitating to jump up onto the couch or your lap? These are signs that your pet could be suffering from arthritis. Arthritis is a leading cause of chronic pain in our pets and affects at least one in five dogs and cats.

Cartilage covers the ends of the bones to create a low-friction environment and cushion for the joints. With arthritis, the cartilage lining becomes thinner and breaks down, leading to a vicious cycle of inflammation, joint swelling, thickening of the tissues around the joint, stiffness, muscle loss and pain.


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Some pets may exhibit pain through whimpering, moaning or yelping, but for many the signs can be more subtle. You may notice problems with stairs, reluctance to go for walks, difficulties posturing to urinate or defecate, inappropriate elimination, limping, licking of joints, sleeping more, not wanting to be touched, being restless at night, or not grooming as much.

Your veterinarian will use a combination of clinical signs, physical examination and possible X-rays to help determine if your pet has arthritis. Arthritis cannot be cured; however, it can be managed through a multimodal approach.


This often consists of pain medications but may also include nonpharmaceutical therapies such as heat/ice, therapeutic lasers, physical rehabilitation and complementary therapies such as acupuncture.


Maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce pain and decrease wear and tear on the joints.


Regular, low-impact exercise will help maintain muscle strength, joint lubrication and joint range of motion, and will also aid in weight management. Walking is one of the best exercises, but swimming can also be great if not contraindicated due to other health concerns. There can be other exercises that I prescribe for my patients depending on their underlying conditions and problem areas.


Supplements, including glucosamine/chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids, may improve cartilage health and decrease inflammation. There are varying dosages and product preferences (depending on who you talk to), so it's best to consult your veterinarian for recommendations. Additionally, there are several prescription veterinary diets for arthritis that have higher levels of several joint supplements.


Carpet runners or pet footwear can help weaker pets cope with slippery floor surfaces, while ramps and harnesses can help support them. And just like people, pets also appreciate cozy padded bedding.

Jessica Bunch is an assistant professor at WSU College of Veterinary Medicine and president of the American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians.

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