Arthritis isn't only a problem for older pets

Warning signs: If your dog struggles with stairs, it might be an indication of arthritis.

Warning signs: If your dog struggles with stairs, it might be an indication of arthritis.

Arthritis (also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease) can be a common health issue for older dogs and cats, but can also occur in young animals.

It's important to seek proper veterinary advice, and implement a program of treatment if you suspect your dog or cat is in pain and could be suffering from arthritis.

What is arthritis, and what causes it?

Arthritis occurs when joints become inflamed, which can cause swelling and/or pain and damage to the cartilage around joints.

There are a number of possible causes for arthritis in dogs and cats, these include but are not limited to:

  • As the animals ages, the wear and tear on their joints can predispose them to injury and arthritis.
  • Genetics - some dog and cat breeds and some individual animals can be more prone to arthritis.
  • Injuries - if your dog or cat has suffered a prior injury, this can increase their risk of developing arthritis in that joint.
  • Obesity can exacerbate the pressure on joints, and made the condition worse.
  • Arthritis can also possibly be secondary to an auto-immune condition.

How do I know if my dog or cat has arthritis?

There are a number of signs that could indicate your dog has arthritis. If you notice your dog is reluctant to play or exercise, lags behind in walks, or struggles to get up, climb stairs or jump up and down, these could all suggest that your dog is experiencing pain.

Other signs include limping, licking or chewing at their joints, vocalising in pain when touched, and personality changes, such as lethargy or even aggression.

It can be harder to recognise joint pain in cats, but there are still signs. Some signs of arthritis in your cat include reduced activity and interaction with people and other cats, difficulty using their litter tray, difficulty getting up and stiffness, limping, or lameness, as well as personality changes, growling or vocalising in pain when touched, and reduced grooming.

If you notice any of these signs, or other indications that your pet might be in pain, it's time to go to the vet.

What treatment is available for my pets?

The most important thing you can do if you suspect your pet has arthritis, is to go to your vet and seek their advice. They will be able to conduct a proper exam and determine whether or not your pet is suffering from arthritis or if there is another cause for their discomfort.

Treatment for arthritis is different for each dog or cat, and really depends on their age, level of fitness, size, other health conditions they might have, and so forth. Individual animals will also respond to different treatments differently, and some may not be able to take some medication safely, so it's very important to seek proper veterinary advice. Never give your pet human pain relief medications - it could be toxic.

There are also ways you can help make your pets more comfortable at home if they have arthritis, or are showing signs of being in pain.

  • Make sure both dogs and cats have access to food and water in places that don't require climbing or jumping to access.
  • Provide soft, well-padded beds and sleeping areas for your pets, and ensure they have access to warmth, especially in colder months.
  • Ensure your cat's litter tray has an easy, low side for access, and consider investing in pet stars or a ramp so they can access the places they like to go (remembering that cats like to have access to both high and low spaces to rest and hide.

With correct treatment and the right adjustments, your dog or cat can continue to live a happy and healthy life, despite their arthritis.

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