Did You Know

Osteoarthritis in the Dog and Cat

Osteoarthritis is a painful, progressive disease.  Osteoarthritis involves the whole joint and results in joint inflammation, cartilage destruction and eventually bone changes.  Loss of cartilage within the joint results in bone on bone impingement which ultimately will cause irritation to the nerves and severe pain.  It is the most common cause of lameness in dogs and is thought to affect up to 1 in 5. Dogs can develop osteoarthritis due to an underlying cause e.g. developmental condition or a previous fracture and therefore it is often picked up in younger animals.  Cats tend to develop osteoarthritis due to ‘wear and tear’ on the joints.  It is estimated that 90% of cats over 12 years old have some degree of osteoarthritis.  Although the disease cannot be cured, much can be done to control the associated pain, slow the disease progression and improve your pets’ quality of life.

Clinical signs

Often owners will associate signs of osteoarthritis as just ‘getting old’ and not in discomfort.  In fact many signs of discomfort can be very subtle and include behavioural changes as well as physical changes.  Common clinical signs of osteoarthritis in dogs may be:

  1. Stiffness
  2. Struggling to rise, slow to lye down
  3. Struggling to climb up/down stairs, get onto/off furniture, into/out of cars
  4. Lameness
  5. Slower on walks or reluctant to exercise or play
  6. Changes in behaviour – more withdrawn, anxiety, fear responses, startling, aggression
  7. Seeking coolness over comfort
  8. Restless, panting, pacing
  9. Painful when touched, reluctant to be groomed
  10. Yelping/whimpering in pain

Cats often become quieter with pain.  Signs of osteoarthritis in cats may include: reluctance to jump up/down, sleeping more, going out less, overgrown claws, no longer using scratch post, not managing to use litter trays.


Osteoarthritis requires a multimodal approach to treatment.  Most pets that are suffering with osteoarthritis will also develop secondary muscle pain due to postural change and weight shift. Treatment options may include:

Weight loss – extra fatty adipose tissue secretes chemicals which contribute to joint inflammation.  Extra weight on already painful joints will also increase wear and tear as well as discomfort.

Diet – prescription diets can be prescribed which are very high in omega 3 and have a natural anti-inflammatory action.

Exercise – regular short daily walks to maintain muscle mass.  Your vet can advice you on an appropriate exercise regime.

Joint supplements e.g. glucosamine, chondroitin, green lipped muscle.

Pain relief – many pets will use combinations of different drug types to keep your pet comfortable.

Acupuncture – an excellent treatment for muscular pain and can also help with other sources of pain.

Physiotherapy/Hydrotherapy – can help maintain muscle mass and mobility

Environmental changes e.g. using a ramp into the car

If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from osteoarthritis please seek advice from your vet.

Sarah Mingay