Spotting signs of arthritis in our pets

Arthritis is something our pets suffer from as much as ourselves, but it can be a lot trickier to spot the signs of arthritis in our pets - particularly in our cats. Our four-legged friends can be very stoic when it comes to showing pain, so we need to look for subtle signs that tell us they may be in discomfort.

Signs of arthritis in cats can include:

  • Stiffness and limited movement
  • Trouble getting up, lying down, walking, climbing or jumping
  • Decreased grooming
  • Dislike of being groomed or touched
  • Toileting outside the litter box or difficulty crouching to go to the toilet

Signs of arthritis in dogs can include:

  • Limping, stiffness or limited movement
  • Decreased activity or not wanting to go for walks
  • Avoiding or difficulty using stairs
  • Trouble getting up or lying down
  • Changes in appetite or personality

Cats such as Billie can't tell us when it hurts. Billie is a 9-year-old Burmese who came into the clinic with a swollen elbow and sudden lameness in her front leg. X-rays showed severe arthritis in her elbow, and since starting on pain relief medication has returned to her normal activities at home.

What to do if I think my pet may be suffering from arthritis?

The first thing to do is have your pet checked by a veterinarian to see if there is any swelling, reduced movement or changes to limbs and joints, as well as ruling out other illnesses that can cause similar signs.

Although a physical exam can help us find the spot that hurts, an x-ray is the only way to see changes to the bone and confirm the presence of arthritis.

How do we treat arthritis?

There are a number of treatment options available for arthritis. Although we can't cure arthritis, we want to make sure our pets are comfortable and able to lead as normal life as possible.

Pain relief forms the basis of arthritis management. This is often through injections to help the joints move easier, and anti-inflammatory tablets or liquids to reduce swelling and provide pain relief. It is not uncommon for severe arthritis cases to end up on multiple medications that all help in different ways. It's important to remember that many of our over the counter medications are toxic to our pets, so only animal medications should be used.

Another very important part of arthritis management is lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy body weight. This reduces any extra loading on sore joints which also reduces discomfort. Nutritional supplements, similar to those taken by us, can also be used to help maintain joint health.