American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)
925-230-9422

Osteoarthritis in Dogs & Cats

Osteoarthritis in Dogs and How to Recognize the Signs

Animals feel and anticipate pain through similar mechanisms to those of humans. In order to provide adequate pain control is necessary to recognize and assess pain in animals. However this is challenging task, since these individuals are not able to communicate verbally. The recognition of pain in animals is based mainly on observation of behavioral changes. Signs of osteoarthritis may be subtle and easy to miss, early recognition and treatment is critical to slow progression of the disease, maintaining lean body weight is very important for arthritic patients. Dogs will rarely whine or cry unless they are in severe pain.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative disease that may affect any joint but is commonly found in a pet’s hip, elbow, shoulder, knee, wrist, ankle, or spine. Just like us, osteoarthritis can occur when cartilage in the joint is damaged, either following a traumatic event or with the general wear and tear of life. Osteoarthritis and cartilage damage increases in athletic animals, obese animals, or when the joint is congenitally abnormal.

Cartilage is like the shocks in our cars, it is the shock absorber of our bodies, cartilage decreases joint stress by reducing impact on the ends of the bones in joints. When cartilage is damaged, it starts a domino effect of inflammatory changes, eventually leading to destruction of the cartilage and subsequent damage to the underlying bone. Since cartilage contains no nerves, if you are noticing your pet is showing any signs of pain, the damage and changes in underlying bone have already begun.

Signs of arthritis & pain include:

  • A decrease in appetite
  • Trembling, shaky legs
  • Has a sad or tense “look” on their face like they are in pain
  • Not greeting you as usual
  • Crouching posture, pain in the neck/hanging head downward, arched back/tucked abdomen, lowered hind end, tail hangs downwards
  • Taking a long time to urinate or defecate
  • Excessively panting
  • Reluctance to take walks of usual length
  • Stiffness (that may disappear once the pet has ‘warmed up’)
  • Difficulty or avoidance to climbing stairs, climbing in the car, on the bed or a sofa
  • Difficulty laying down and rising
  • Limping or not using a leg
  • Agitated/unable to get comfortable- constant readjustment of body
  • Licking of a single joint
  • Acting withdrawn, spending less time playing with family (which is often misunderstood as a sign of ‘aging’)
  • Soreness when touched
  • Rarely, aggression when touched or approached

Exactly what can I do?

  • Weight Reduction: Ask your doctor about your pet’s body condition score (BCS), which should be normal (5/9) or slightly underweight (4/9).  If your pet is overweight, discuss a weight loss diet with your veterinarian.
  • Controlled Exercise:  Low-impact exercise is best; swimming or walking through shallow water is ideal.  Leash walking and controlled jogging are also acceptable.
  • Nutraceuticals:  Synergistic combinations of nutraceuticals such as glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate contain compounds that support cartilage structure, prevent further deterioration, suppress inflammation, and reduce free radical damage.
  • Laser Therapy, Acupuncture, and Chiropractic Care: All of these therapies provide additional non-drug pain control.
  • Prescription Drugs: Drugs are available that can reduce inflammation and suppress pain in pets with more advanced disease.  Side effects can be minimized by monitoring your dog’s blood work regularly.

Osteoarthritis in Cats and How to Recognize the Signs

As our feline friends age many suffer from arthritis that often goes undiagnosed. With cats, it can be tricky for owners to identify pain because cats are masters at hiding signs of weakness and pain. This is why many cats have undiagnosed pain and or arthritis. If you don’t pay attention to the little clues that indicate your pet is hurting, you may miss when your pet needs your help.

What puts my cat at risk?

  • Age
  • Excess Weight
  • Previous Injury or Orthopedic Surgery
  • Developmental issues

Cats over 8 are more likely to suffer from arthritis simply because of their age and the changes that accompany that.  Overweight animals are becoming an epidemic and we are seeing many animals suffering arthritis at an early age because of the excess stress placed on the joints.  Any cat that has had a previous injury or an orthopedic surgery have a site that is very prone to arthritis due to the bony changes that accompany healing of such an injury.  It is often never thought of but cats that may have not had access to proper kitten food and adequate calcium during their formative months can have bony changes that make them susceptible to arthritis in various joints.

What does the hidden pain in our cats look like?

  • Decreased use of the litter box
  • Behavior changes
  • Not jumping up on counters, beds, couches, or cat furniture (when they used to do that)
  • Not interacting with their family/avoiding affection
  • Decreased grooming or wanting to be groomed
  • Negative reactions to touch, such as biting.
  • The obscure cat Cats are good at hiding their pain. So, if you notice your cat acting grouchy, flattening his ears back, really crouching up his body position, or—especially—hiding, it may be a good indication that your pet is experiencing pain

If you have concerns that your cat may have arthritis consult one of our Veterinarians.  There are many options to manage our cats comfort as they age.  Specialized treatments are available now.  We are now encouraging and offering laser therapy and chiropractic adjustments.



  • Sign Up for our Newsletter!