Trae's Anatomy: Arthritis

On the Chart: Arthritis

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Similar to people, a pet suffering from arthritis may exhibit stiffness, discomfort, a lack of flexibility, and be slow to get up and move around.  As many as one in five dogs and one in three cats (eight or older) may be affected by arthritis, a condition involving the body’s joints.  Arthritis causes the joints to become inflamed, heated, painful, or swollen.  If you’ve ever watched late night television, you may have seen ads saying that arthritis doesn’t have to end life as you know it.  With advances in human medical science often translating to the good of our pets, it doesn’t for your pet, either.  The first step, though, is seeing your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis, then developing a treatment plan suited to your pet.

Common Causes

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), some of the symptoms you may notice in your pet that could be arthritis could also signal other, more serious ailments.  Through examination, blood tests, radiographs, and health history, a doctor can accurately determine if your cat or dog suffers from arthritis.  The type of arthritis seen most often is osteoarthritis, characterized by the gradual loss of cartilage of the joints. Large breed dog owners know arthritis is likely to come in time simply due to the animal’s size.  Injuries can also cause arthritis.  The condition can also affect small animals — at any age.  For instance, some breeds such as the Pomeranian often have luxating patellas.  The luxation, or displacement of the bones in a joint of the patella causes more movement in the knees than is normal or natural.  Over time, arthritis can develop.

The AAHA says, “Most elderly dogs and cats suffer from osteoarthritis to some degree.”  As our pets age, so does the cushioning in their joints.  What was once nice and padded becomes thin from years of wear, tear, and pressure from supporting the joints.  Weight-bearing joints are affected the most. 

Some cases, though more rare, are caused by bacterial infection and autoimmune disorders.

Common Treatments

Owners no longer have to face down drug treatments as their only remedy for the rest of their pets’ days. Today treatments range from massage to exercise, acupuncture to laser therapy.  In extreme cases, surgery may offer the best solution.  Medications may be prescribed, but with other treatments and life accommodations, doses may be smaller, less frequent, and less harsh on the system.

ABC’s Good Morning America recently covered a story on pets and arthritis.  In “Veterinarians Add Laser Therapy to Arthritis Treatment,” Dr. Mike Berkenblit discusses laser therapy both as an alternative to drugs and an option in the event drugs lose efficacy.  He says the laser goes deep into tissue to work on

unhealthy cells.  The laser “stimulates them to produce more energy, to heal, and to release endorphins,” says Berkenblit.  Laser therapy is also free of side effects, and works in more than two-thirds of those treated.

For those seeking alternative or holistic treatments, naturopathic veterinarians may prescribe herbal supplements and antioxidant vitamins.

Everyday Measures

How to help your pet after diagnosis?  First and foremost, consider what you can do to physically reduce added strain on the body.  For instance, if you feed your cat up high, move his or her dishes down low.  If your dog normally jumps into your vehicle, consider a ramp.  Got hardwood floors?  Put down runners and rugs that don’t slide.

If movement is restricted, keep up with grooming — your pet may not be able to reach hard to get to places.  Also, provide comfortable, soft places to rest.  If your cat or dog seeks warmer places to sleep, be accommodating.  Most pet stores carry crate pads or bedding with heat-regulating accessories.  And just like people, before it’s too late, consider keeping him or her active.  For cats, playing with fur-covered mice, a laser light and even catnip are indoor options.  For dogs, take walks.  You’ll enjoy time together and help keep his or her blood flowing, too. 

Above all, enjoy every moment together. Talk to your veterinarian with concerns.  Consider all the options and take advantage of those you can.  Arthritis is common but it doesn’t have to debilitate your pet, or the life you share. 


Kennedy Morgan is a Portland-area dog mom, customer service manager for a small software company, and now freelance writer. Kennedy, her Dane, Vegas, and new addition, a Pomeranian, Leo, can be found playing with their many Dane friends (and their people) at weekly Portland Great Dane Community meetups. Contact her at Photo is Vegas (Apache Vegas Rose)