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Aching Joints and Wagging Tails: Navigating Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

Arthritis, otherwise known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, is characterized by progressive changes to the joints that are unable to be reversed. Though arthritis is more common in older pets, young pets could develop it as well. Arthritis is thought to be just as common in both dogs and cats, but dogs typically show more clinical signs, making it easier to identify. Clinical signs include lameness (limping), difficulty walking, jumping on furniture, or climbing stairs, swollen joints, and/or stilted(stiff) gait. If these signs are noted in your pet, they should be assessed by a veterinarian.

An excerpt from the AVMA about osteoarthritis “described cats as solitary hunters that have limited social communication and are deliberately inscrutable. They manifest pain through reductions in play, grooming, socializing, and appetite and increases in hiding and sleeping. Dr. Colleran cited a study led by Dr. Lascelles that found 91% of cats between 6 months old and 20 years old have radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in at least one joint.” This is why it is so important to notice subtle changes to your cat’s behavior and to have yearly or biannual veterinary exams performed.

A physical exam may assist your veterinarian in locating the source of discomfort if you notice these symptoms at home. Diagnostic testing in pets typically includes radiographs (x-rays) of the affected joints. Based on the radiology results, further testing may be indicated. 

Once arthritis is diagnosed, there are a variety of treatment options. 

  1. Joint supplements: These are an excellent way to improve joint health and mobility.There are so many different options of active ingredients and brands, so it is best to discuss with your veterinarian to pick one that is right for your pet. 

  2. Injectable monoclonal antibodies (Solensia for cats and Librela for dogs): These new drugs are administered once every 30 days and are very promising in the fight against arthritis. The injected antibodies bind to nerve growth factor, which is a source of inflammation in the joints, and helps eliminate it. This allows the joint to be less inflamed and more comfortable, leading to improved mobility for our pets. If interested ask your veterinarian to see if your pet is a good candidate for these products.

  3. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: Carprofen (Rimadyl), Deramaxx, and meloxicam (Metacam) are the most common NSAIDs used in dogs. Onsior and meloxicam (Metacam) are the most common NSAIDS used in cats. As with all medications, NSAIDS can have side effects. To ensure that these medications are a minimal risk to your pet, we recommend blood work before your pet takes these medications and every 4-6 months if your pet stays on these medications long term. Before monoclonal antibody medications were made available, this was the mainstay of treatment for arthritis.

  4. Adequan: This injectable medication contains PSGAGs which are the building blocks for joint fluid and cartilage. 

  5. Other options: You may consider therapies such as PT (physical therapy) with a rehabilitation-certified veterinarian, acupuncture, and cold laser. You may also consider widespread changes to your home such as the addition of yoga mats or non-slip mats in hallways, raised food bowls, supportive or orthopedic bedding, and ramps.

Websites for evaluation: 

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