out of joint: arthritis in pets
Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. There are several different types of arthritis, but the most common type that affects our pets is a chronic degenerative disease resulting from damaged cartilage. Cartilage damage can result from injury, a congenitally abnormal joint, normal wear and tear in athletic pets, or even just being overweight.
Arthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (or DJD), occurs in both cats and dogs, though it is most commonly diagnosed in dogs. This is not because it occurs more frequently in dogs. In fact, up to 90% of cats over the age of 12 have arthritis. The discrepancy in diagnosis probably occurs because cats are a little better at hiding their diseases than dogs are.
Clinical signs of arthritis in dogs include:
• Reluctance to move/exercise
• Stiffness, especially upon first waking up
• Difficulty climbing the steps or jumping into the car or bed
• Pain when touched
Clinical signs in cats may be easier to miss:
• Weight loss
• Urinating outside of the litter box
• Acting withdrawn
• Poor grooming habits
Treatment options for arthritis
Degenerative joint disease has many treatment options. The most important thing that you, the pet parent, can do to help combat pain from arthritis is to keep your pet at a healthy weight. If your pet is overweight, talk with your veterinarian about safe, healthy ways to get your pet’s weight down, including a specific diet plan.
Oral anti-inflammatories exist for both dogs and cats and are helpful in controlling pain. Nutraceuticals, such as glucosamine/chondroitin and omega-three fatty acids, are also helpful to provide a little bit of extra cushion and lubrication in the affected joints. Other therapies, such as injections of cartilage protectants, acupuncture, laser therapy and physical therapy are also useful in treating DJD and may be covered by your pet health insurance. If you suspect your pet is showing signs of DJD, bring it up with your vet so that the two of you can formulate a treatment plan that works for both of you.
Infectious arthritis vs. Immune-mediated arthritis
Arthritis rarely occurs as the result of illness, but it is possible. Infectious arthritis occurs when organisms invade the joint and it becomes inflamed. Diagnosis will likely be made via a joint tap, or sampling some of the fluid in the joint for testing. Treatment will rely on identifying the offending organisms and starting the appropriate antibiotic.
Immune-mediated arthritis also occurs. Intermittent signs, such as fever and shifting leg lameness, may indicate an immune-mediated inflammation in the joints. Underlying disease, such as lupus, Lyme disease or chronic infectious disease may be to blame, although most of cases of immune-mediated arthritis are known as idiopathic, meaning that no underlying cause can be found. Treatment centers on decreasing the body’s immune response, either through steroids or immunomodulating drugs.
With a little attention to joint care – particularly for those stoic cats! – you can help your pets enjoy an active life well into their senior years.
Updated October 23, 2019