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Signs of Arthritis

Helping you spot arthritis early

It can be difficult to spot arthritis in your cat or dog, as its symptoms often creep up quietly and can be mistaken for other illnesses. Here’s how you can catch it early and get your pet the treatment they need to enjoy a good quality of life.

Arthritis: an owner's story

It’s common to think that joint problems only happen in older pets, but as Colin and Roxy Gateson found shortly after they adopted rescue dog Dexter, that’s not always the case. When the crossbreed terrier – who was only three at the time – came to live with them, they noticed he had a limp. X-rays and a scan followed, which picked up a slight chip on his right elbow bone that had become arthritic.

Four-and-a-half years on, Dexter is slow to get up in the mornings. He avoids putting weight on his right paw and has some problems with his other joints, which have had to work harder to compensate for his now chronically arthritic elbow. He is, however, a very happy member of the family who enjoys short walks, lots of interaction and performing tricks.

As the Gatesons discovered, joint problems such as arthritis are very common in dogs – and cats too.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis simply means that a joint has become inflamed or swollen due to wear and tear, or a previous injury in that area. There are four major joints in your pet’s body: the shoulders and elbows in the front legs, and the hips and knees in the back. There are also smaller ones, such as the hock (ankle), carpus (wrist) and spinal joints, and arthritis can affect any of these points. The most common form of arthritis in dogs and cats is osteoarthritis, which is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). Healthy joints are normally covered by cartilage and contain a fluid to allow for smooth movement of the bones. With DJD, a pet’s cartilage becomes damaged or wears away, and the soft tissues within the joint become inflamed, causing pain and stiffness. But the signs can be hard to pinpoint: an injury such as a broken bone will give your pet sudden, acute pain (and can cause them to yelp), but arthritis will create a ‘vague’ pain.

So how can you tell if your pet has this kind of mobility issue? Here are the signs you should look out for:

  1. Walking difficulties. If your dog has arthritis, you’ll often be able to notice it by monitoring him for stiffness and a limp, especially when he gets up after rest. But you’ll need sharp eyes: with early arthritis, that limp will typically wear off within a few minutes of walking around.
  2. Fussing at an area. Pets affected by arthritis can begin to lick, chew or bite at body parts that are painful, in an attempt to lessen their pain and discomfort. This could lead to hair loss or inflamed skin around the affected areas.
  3. Irritability. Due to the persistent aches and pains of arthritis, pets with the condition can (understandably) become irritable. They may snap while being petted (especially if they’ve been stroked or held in a way that increases their pain) and, in order to ward off any discomfort in the first place, might eventually lash out if anyone approaches them.
  4. Spinal issues. Arthritic changes can also take place in the joints of the spine and, while all pets can be affected in this way, it’s especially common in cats. You might notice these changes if your kitty’s posture has changed, and she now hunches her back slightly, or if her neck seems sore to the touch. Other signs in both cats and dogs include lameness in one, or both, hind legs.
  5. Tiredness. While increased nap times can simply be a sign of ageing, your pet may also begin to tire more easily if he or she has arthritis. If you notice that your pet is unable to play for the same amount of time, spends more time resting and, in the case of dogs, can no longer complete the same walks he used to, have it checked out – regardless of age.
  6. Avoiding movement. Cats might not be as visibly stiff as dogs, but you may notice that your kitty is reluctant to jump onto surfaces or climb stairs and might also avoid leaping onto your lap or interacting with you. It’s easy to confuse this change in her mood with behavioural issues, but it could just be that she wants to avoid the discomfort caused by movement or being touched.
    Similarly, a dog with arthritis might find it difficult to get into and out of the car, or may have difficulty playing the same games he used to enjoy.

Treatment time

If you’ve noticed any of the above signs, book an appointment with us as soon as possible. Arthritis may be causing your pet a lot of pain, and he or she may benefit from a prescribed medication, such as a non-steroid anti-inflammatory, or supplements to help relieve the symptoms. It’s also important to control your pet’s weight, as an increased body mass could place extra strain (and pain) on the joints. We can help you manage your pet’s food intake by recommending a calorie-controlled diet. This will help your cat or dog to feel full, while also minimising the calories they’re taking in.

According to Roxy Gateson, Dexter’s owner, the other invaluable treatment for your arthritic pet is lots of love and patience. She and Colin are very careful about not over-exercising Dexter, but still take great pleasure and fun in his company. ‘We wanted a dog to keep us fit by going on nice long walks together – that hasn’t quite happened,’ she says. ‘But despite it all, Dexter is lovely and we wouldn’t change him for the world’.


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