Recognizing signs of arthritis in our pets
Arthritis- or formally osteoarthritis- is an irreversible degenerative change to joints. Many of our pets may suffer from arthritic changes later in life. Some of our pets may have arthritic changes earlier in life due to injury, inherited abnormalities (e.g. hip dysplasia), etc. As pet owners it can be difficult to note subtle signs of pain or arthritis. Just because our animal is not crying out in pain, does not mean that they are comfortable. Many of our pets will hide issues or continue regular habits despite their discomfort. This article will outline earlier signs that may indicate pain or arthritic changes in your pet.
Possible signs of arthritis in our pets:
- Decreased activity
- A pet that used to want to go on a 3-mile walk may be reluctant to go a few blocks.
- A pet that is generally very playful may not want to play catch or run around the yard.
- Changes in rising or sitting down
- We may notice our pet is initially stiff after rising which improves with exercise.
- Difficulty going up or down stairs.
- Sensitivity or aggression to touch in certain areas
- Uneven distribution of weight
- Some pets may decrease weight in one or more of their legs. In these cases, you may notice their weight is shifted. When this is a chronic issue the legs that are used less may have decreased muscle mass and look smaller than their counterparts.
Cats can be less obvious than their canine counterparts. They will often still do normal behaviors like jumping, however if you look closely they may look a little different. For example, when jumping up your cat normally jumps up quickly and clears the height easily. A cat who has arthritis may hesitate prior to jumping and pull itself up the remainder of the way with the front legs. Zoetis has an “OA Checklist” which has animations showing the difference between a normal cat and one suffering from arthritis. (https://www.zoetispetcare.com/checklist/osteoarthritis-checklist-cat).
By becoming educated pet owners, we may be able to catch signs or changes due to arthritis earlier. Our pets cannot tell us when they are in pain so we have to examine the non-verbal cues they provide. Working with your veterinarian you can then come up with a plan for your pet whether that includes: weight loss, supplements, pain medication, acupuncture, laser therapy, etc. There are many wonderful modalities now that can help our pets live happy and mobile lives as long as possible!
Cynthia Rogers, DVM