- Just like us, our pets can develop osteoarthritis, and the condition can show itself in many different ways. You notice your little dog, now age 10, hesitates at times before jumping up into your recliner with you. Or your senior cat prepares to jump up on your bed for her daily nap, and sometimes doesn’t quite make it.
- Osteoarthritis (OA) is primarily seen in older animals (& humans), but it occurs in younger pets as well. Approximately 14 million adult dogs in the U.S. have the condition, and 90% of cats over 12 have it as well based on x-ray evidence.
Two Types of Arthritis: Primary and Secondary
- Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a progressive disease of the joints characterized by chronic inflammation. OA can be a primary or secondary disease. Symptoms of primary osteoarthritis typically occur as part of the aging process.
- Secondary OA, on the other hand, can have a wide range of causes, including trauma, abnormal wear and tear on the joints and cartilage or an inherited defect present at birth such as hip dysplasia. In many cases of arthritis in pets, it’s not entirely clear what triggers the process of inflammation.
7 Common Signs of Arthritis in Dogs and Cats
If one or more of these signs is present in your pet, it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
- Limping — Limping is the number one sign of arthritis in pets. If your dog or cat is favoring one or more limbs, especially when he stands up from a lying or seated position, there’s a good possibility he’s dealing with arthritic joints. Often the limp will be less pronounced after he’s been moving around for a while.
- Difficulty moving — Pets with arthritis often display reluctance or an inability to do certain things they once did with ease. For example, your dog may be hesitant to jump into or out of your car because he’s achy, or your kitty may try to jump up on a table or bed and not quite make it because painful joints have compromised her leaping ability.
- Spinal issues — Arthritic joints also occur in certain areas of the spine, which can cause your pet to hold his head lower than normal due to a sore neck, or adopt sort of a hunchback posture. Lameness in one or both back legs can also be a sign of arthritis in the spine.
- Fatigue — Pets with arthritis tend to tire more easily than animals with healthy joints, because pain and movement issues drain energy. You may notice your dog or cat is spending less time moving around and more time resting or sleeping.
- Irritability — The discomfort of arthritic joints can make even the most easygoing, friendly pet a bit snappy, especially if he’s being petted or handled in a way that increases his pain.
- Muscle atrophy — Left untreated, a dog or cat with arthritis will suffer muscle atrophy, which is the dying off muscle tissue from lack of use. If one or more of your pet’s legs appears thinner than the others, it means the muscles of that leg are wasting away.
- Licking, chewing and biting at specific areas of the body — Some pets with arthritis lick, chew or bite at the skin overlying a painful joint, in an attempt to get some relief from discomfort. If this behavior becomes obsessive, your dog or cat can develop inflamed skin, hair loss, and hot spots over affected areas.
Detecting OA Can Be More Challenging in Cats
Since cats are masterful at hiding pain, what you want to look for instead of obvious limping, for example, or difficulty standing up from a lying position, are behavioral changes. Some of these might include:
- Reluctance to jump up on things, or difficulty gaining the height needed
- Decreased interest in other family members, both people and pets
- Eliminating outside the litterbox, especially if the box has high sides, is upstairs, or is in a hard-to-reach spot
- Becoming less active; sleeping more
- No longer covering urine or feces with litter
- Lack of appetite
If you notice one or more of these signs in your pet, you should suspect OA and make an appointment with your veterinarian. The sooner you find out the underlying cause of your pet’s behavior change, the sooner you can get them on the road to feeling better.