Arthritis in dogs and cats

By Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS

Arthritis is a term that you may have heard of, yet many pet owners are still unclear as to what causes it and why. We are going to explore what arthritis is and how it may affect your cat or dog. We will also have a brief look at some of the treatment options available and how you can help your furry friend with this condition.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis (osteoarthritis) is a progressive joint condition that can occur when an animal has an inherited joint malformation, such as hip or elbow dysplasia. It can also be more likely to occur in animals with previous joint injuries. However, there is often no identifiable primary cause. The condition is usually associated with ageing and general ‘wear and tear’, which is more commonly seen in older and overweight animals.

Cartilage, a tissue found at the end of your pet’s bone, acts to cushion their joints, allowing them to move smoothly, avoiding painful friction. In arthritis, the cartilage doesn’t function as it should and gradual loss occurs. We can see uncomfortable thickening of the joint and new bone formation (osteophytosis), creating inflammation and pain. This results in joints become stiffer and uncomfortable.

Arthritis is painful, but many animals learn to cope and adapt in the early days, simply ‘putting up’ with their symptoms. Owners may not recognise that their animal is sore, especially in these early stages. But as the disease progresses symptoms become more and more evident.

What are the signs of arthritis in cats and dogs?

In the early stages of arthritis, symptoms can be subtle or intermittent. However, many owners will begin to notice the following –

  • Stiffness, especially after sleeping or rest
  • Lameness (limping)
  • Difficulty jumping up onto the bed, the sofa or into the car
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Slowing down on walks or not playing as much as usual
  • Reacting when painful joints are stroked or handled
  • Lack of grooming (particularly in cats that are too stiff to bend and groom effectively)
  • Loss of muscle mass/condition

If you notice any of these symptoms, then you should make an appointment with one of our vets to get your pet checked out.

What treatment options are available for my pet?

Our vets will begin by examining your cat or dog. Depending on their findings, they may suggest diagnostic imaging, with X-rays (radiography) or computed tomography (CT) being the most useful. Imaging can help to determine the severity of the problem but may also help to decide whether surgical intervention or medical/conservative care is best for your pet.

In many cases, our vets will have a high suspicion of arthritis from simply examining your pet, but they may want to get additional information to inform the treatment plan.

Examples of commonly used medical treatments include –

  • Joint supplements (nutraceuticals) – these contain things like glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids which are the building blocks needed for healthy cartilage This category also includes prescription joint diets that are fortified with these While the evidence for these products is not very strong, they are likely to help in the early stages and do little harm.
  • Pain relief (analgesia) – oral pain-relieving medications can be given regularly at home. Non- steroidal anti-inflammatories like meloxicam are commonly used, but other medications may be prescribed. Some animals could require more than one type of pain relief to manage their
  • Monoclonal antibodies – These are given as monthly injections by a vet or vet nurse. Monoclonal antibodies are proteins that can be used to interrupt the transmission of pain signals, making pets more comfortable.
  • Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans – a type of joint supplement administered via an injection to help support the
  • Hydrotherapy – a form of physical therapy that takes place in water. This low-impact exercise helps to improve muscle
  • Physiotherapy – helps to improve movement in affected animals who are suffering from joint disease or recovering from
  • Weight management – keeping your pet at a healthy weight will prevent excess pressure from being put on diseased joints. Your vet may suggest a weight loss regime for your cat or
  • Exercise management – being sensible with your pet’s exercise can help them manage their arthritis better. For example, regular moderate exercise is preferable for these animals, rather than short walks in the week and a big hike at the

A combination of these usually gives the best outcome, depending on the individual. Your vet will advise routine checkups to ensure your pet’s condition is well managed and also to ensure that no other health concerns are developing (e.g. through regular blood tests and physical examinations).

Will my pet be ok?

Many animals can have their joint disease successfully managed, but it is important to recognise that there is no cure. The disease is degenerative meaning that it will get worse over time. It is important to work alongside us to slow the progression of their arthritis but also to keep their pain well- managed. Many animals can live long and comfortable lives with their joint disease, but it does depend on the degree of severity at diagnosis.

So, what can I do to help my cat or dog with arthritis?

If you suspect your cat or dog has arthritis, then bring them to us! We will be able to help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions that could present in a similar way.

As well as following recommended treatment plans from your vet, there are a few measures you can take at home to support your pet too. These include –

  • Providing ramps or steps for pets to climb into the car or onto a worktop more easily
  • Providing low-sided litter trays for cats, so that they can access them more easily
  • Give them a comfortable, well-cushioned bed
  • Try not to give your pet too many treats or table scraps, keeping their weight down is important
  • Consider rugs or mats in rooms with slippery floors, to help your arthritic pet stay steady on their


If you suspect your pet might be having issues with their joints, then contact us. The sooner that their condition is diagnosed, the sooner we can get them feeling more comfortable again. While arthritis cannot be cured, its progression can be slowed, and many pet owners report how much brighter their animals are with the right treatment regime.