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Arthritis in pets

Arthritis simply means: inflammation of the joint. Arthritis occurs in our pet dogs and cats just as it does in us.
The joint is made up of many anatomical and physiological structures: cartilage, joint capsule (synovium), joint fluid, ligaments and bone. All these parts are play a role in the function of the joint. In arthritis one or many of them may have some problems. 

Why does Arthritis it occur ?

The reason arthritis occurs is complex.
  • Growing problems: abnormalities in the growth of the cartilage (eg OCD), conformation problems can lead to the development of arthritis quite quickly or later in life.
  • Injuries to the joint can lead to permanent changes which can cause long term discomfort within the joint
  • Old age changes - simple "wear and tear" can be the cause of inflammation in the joint of older animals.
  • Infection - joint infections aren't common but can do a lot of damage to the structures of the joint which can lead to chromic problems.
  • Immune Mediated diseases occur where changes can occur in the joint which the immune system doesn't recognise and then tries to remove them. Examples of this would be Rheumatoid arthritis or Lupus type diseases.

Unfortunately, whatever the reason for it's onset, arthritis is usually a progressive condition.

How do you tell if your pet has Arthritis?

It can be hard to tell when your pet has arthritis. The signs can be very obvious or very vague.
The list of clinical signs of arthritis includes:
  • Limping - generally after rest
  • Difficulty rising from lying position
  • Stiffness in the mornings
  • Inability to jump onto a bed or car etc
  • General 'slowness'
  • Licking a particular joint
  • There may even be cries of pain as the animal is attempting to climb stairs or rising from the sitting position
  • Response to treatment - often you won't know your pet is in discomfort until you treat for it and they become much more active and happier

What to do for Arthritis in pets?

Arthritis in pets cannot be cured, there are however many forms of treatment to control and manage arthritis to make their lives more comfortable. At home there are several things you can do:
  • Warmth: a warm joint has improved blood flow
  • Raised beds: keeps pets off cold hard surfaces
  • Coats: provide warmth - esp. to hip & shoulder joints
  • Exercise: gentle controlled exercise is helpful

It is important, however, to determine that arthritis is definitely the cause of your pet’s problem before any treatment can be prescribed. This is because other conditions can cause similar signs, in which case arthritis treatments may be dangerous to use. There are many forms of treatment. This is why it is important to consult your Vet before commencing any treatments.

There are many useful supplements which can help your pet's mobility and pain control.
Read the article about them here: joint care in mature dogs

To understand how they work it is useful to look at the some of the processes that are occurring in arthritis.

A quick summary of the arthritic process:

Continual wear of the joint leads to the release of enzymes from the cartilage which lead to the breakdown of the cartilage structure. The inside layer of the joint capsule (synovium) produces the joint fluid which provides nutrients and lubricates the joint. In arthritis the synovium doesn’t produce the right type of joint fluid which leads to further joint inflammation. Inflammatory cells which arise due to this produce enzymes which cause breakdown of the bone structure. As you can see arthritis is a self perpetuating progressive condition. Actual inflammation and pain are only the final stage in the whole process.


The main aims of treatment in arthritis are to control inflammation and slow down the progress of arthritis. This can be done by a variety of methods:

Anti-inflammatory drugs: these include aspirin-like drugs (NSAIDs) and cortisone. Some of the newer NSAIDs are very effective and safe for longer term use. These focus mainly on the inflammation which is occurring in the joint.Inflammation and pain tends to be the final stage of the arthritic process. While NSAIDs are very good at providing relief of clinical signs, they don’t tend to address the underlying progressive component of arthritis. They have minimal effect on the enzymes we mentioned before. We try to avoid using cortisone as while it gives some relief it can actually speed up the progression of the degenerative process that is occurring in arthritis. These drugs are only available with a consultation from your Vet

Chondro-protective Agents (CPAs) A long name for a group of compounds which are also very useful in the management of arthritis. CPAs tend to act by addressing some of the underlying processes of arthritis before they go on to cause inflammation and pain. A lot of CPAs are based on marine extracts: Green lipped mussel extract (pernica), shark cartilage, abalone extract. The active ingredients are compounds called glucosamine and chondroitin. Similar compounds and recipes are used to help humans with arthritis. CPAs can inhibit the enzymes that we talked about earlier. While they don’t show immediate results like NSAIDs may, they are beneficial in that they will reduce the rate of progression of the arthritis. They also provide the 'building blocks' required for new cartilage growth which are often lacking in arthritis patients. In mild arthritis they are a good method of treatment because of their ability to keep slow the degenerative process which can lead to severe arthritis in time.