Arthritis Pet Care: How to Help with Mobility & Comfort

Amanda Simonson, DVM
Published: November 2, 2022
Arthritis Pet Care: How to Help with Mobility & Comfort

Pets can develop arthritis, just like humans. Although there is no cure for the condition, there are ways to help your dog or cat with arthritis live a comfortable and pain-free life.

What Is Arthritis in Dogs and Cats?

The term arthritis refers to inflammation of joints. This inflammation can cause pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility. Arthritis can be further defined by the type or underlying cause. Forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and septic arthritis.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative disease of the hips and knees, and is the most common type of arthritis affecting dogs. This chronic disease occurs in roughly 25% of dogs and is irreversible.

OA is currently considered to be underdiagnosed in cats, but increased awareness is leading to better patient care and comfort.

Dogs and cats with OA experience a progressive loss of the articular cartilage surfaces of their joints. They also can develop small bony pieces within the joint and fibrosis (connective tissue) around the cartilage of the joint, leading to pain and impairment of limb function.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. The body confuses its own proteins as foreign and attacks the cartilage surfaces. Symptoms in dogs and cats are similar to osteoarthritis and include lameness, pain, and stiffness. 

Septic Arthritis

Septic arthritis involves bacteria or infectious agents infecting joints. This leads to painful inflammation, lameness, and mobility challenges.

Spondylosis

Spondylosis can cause pain and symptoms similar to arthritis. However, spondylosis is defined as a non-inflammatory degenerative disease of the vertebral bodies of the spine. 

How to Help a Cat with Arthritis

Fortunately, there are many ways to help a cat with the pain caused by arthritis. Talk with your veterinarian to find what works best for your pet. Cats can be less tolerant than dogs of changes to their environment, ingesting medicine, and accepting treatment. The goal is to make cats more comfortable with the amount of medication or treatment they are willing to adjust to.

Medications and Supplements for Arthritis in Cats

Over-the-counter medications and supplements may be recommended, but it’s important to follow your vet’s guidance carefully, as some medications may be fatal to cats and others have a low safety margin. Commonly used supplements for cats with arthritis include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Glucosamine/chondroitin

  • Other natural anti-inflammatory products

Prescription medications are also sometimes used in conjunction with supplements to manage pain for cats with arthritis. These may include:

  • NSAIDS (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)

  • Steroids

  • Opioids

  • Gabapentin

  • Amantadine

  • Adequan

Diet and Exercise

Maintaining a healthy weight can help alleviate joint pain. If your cat is overweight, weight loss and management are essential to reduce inflammation and stress on the joints. Your vet may suggest a prescription diet or just measuring food at mealtimes.

Regular exercise may also be recommended if your cat is comfortable enough to tolerate movement. Exercise for cats can be as simple as having to find their food in different areas of the house, treat balls that intermittently release food, or chasing a feather toy or laser light.

Alternative Therapies

Homeopathic care, massage, acupuncture, and laser therapy can all be helpful ways to manage pain in cats with arthritis. Many of these can be used in addition to medication or supplements and provide gentle relief. Several of these techniques help to reduce inflammation through targeted cellular responses.

Tips to Make Arthritic Cats More Comfortable at Home

  • Make food and water more accessible. This could include placing dishes in multiple rooms, so your cat doesn’t have to travel far for food and water.

  • Make litter boxes more accessible. Consider using a larger box so your cat can turn around more easily. This could include a litter box that does not have a high lip, for ease of getting in and out. You may also consider adding more litter boxes throughout your home for convenience.

  • Make bedding more comfortable. This could include deeper cushioning to support joints, and accessible bedding in warm areas where cats like to sun themselves.

  • Add steps to help your cat reach higher places more comfortably. For example, add portable stairs to areas your cat favors, such as beds or couches.

How to Help a Dog with Arthritis

As with cats, there are options to help dogs with pain caused by arthritis. Become familiar with signs of arthritis and monitor your dog often to intervene and give help as soon as possible.

Medications and Supplements for Arthritis in Dogs

Always work with your veterinarian to determine the best plan for your individual dog’s situation. Over-the-counter medications and supplements may be recommended and used; however, some can have unpleasant side effects or even be dangerous.

Commonly recommended supplements include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids

  • Glucosamine/chondroitin

Prescription medications used to manage inflammation and pain from arthritis in dogs include:

Always work with your veterinarian to determine the right medication for your pet.

  • Steroids, such as

Steroid medications can have many side effects and must be handled carefully.

  • Other pain medications that work with NSAIDs or through a different approach, such as

  • Adequan, an injectable prescription product, has anti-inflammatory effects. Many dogs experience significant comfort and minimal side effects with the use of Adequan as part of their pain reduction plan.

Diet and Exercise

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for reducing inflammation and stress on joints. Many dogs can benefit from low-impact regular exercise like walking. However, some dogs may need medication to control pain and inflammation prior to starting exercise.

If your dog struggles with obesity, your vet may suggest a prescription diet or measuring of food. Some prescription diets have supplements built into the food to make it easier for owners to get their pets an appropriate amount of pain management.  

Alternative Therapies

Many treatments and therapies exist beyond oral medications to help manage pain in dogs with arthritis. Options that may help your pet include:

  • Homeopathic care

  • Massage

  • Acupuncture

  • Laser therapy

  • Water therapy (such as swimming or use of an underwater treadmill)

  • Physical rehabilitation

  • Passive range of motion

  • Chiropractic manipulation

  • Stem-cell therapy

Tips to Make Arthritic Dogs More Comfortable at Home

  • Provide more comfortable bedding. Some dogs benefit from supportive cushioning to protect the joints. Other dogs prefer cooler temperatures or lying on tile surfaces, and they may need to transition using a raised bed.

  • Add ramps or stairs to help them up on furniture. Dogs that love to be on the bed or the couch with their owners may no longer be able to jump due to arthritis pain. Adding stress-free access keeps them close to their families.

  • Raise dog bowls so they are more comfortable to eat and drink from. For some dogs with arthritis, bending the neck can be painful, and balancing while in a bending position may be a challenge.

  • Use additional guide support when walking. This may include providing grips for feet or dog boots; adding carpet runners in slick areas; and keeping toenails trimmed.

  • Check your dog doors. Eliminate big steps to climb over or the need to bend to come through. Dogs with arthritis have decreased flexibility, and use of a dog door that is painful for them may lead to reluctance to go outside for elimination.

  • Limit access to stairs or swimming pools. Let your dog use these only under supervision, to prevent accidental trauma.

  • Be careful around your dog. Dogs with arthritis may be weak or wobbly, and housemates may more easily knock them over.

References

  1. American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Osteoarthritis in Cats.

  2. Pavlovsky, Gene. Veterinary Information Network. Degenerative Joint Disease (Canine). December 2021.

  3. Lundgren, Becky. Veterinary Partner. Arthritis in Dogs and Cats: What Can Be Done? January 2019.

  4. Brooks, Wendy. Veterinary Partner. Medications for Degenerative Arthritis in Dogs and Cats. December 2021.

  5. Riley, Elizabeth. Veterinary Partner. Physical Rehabilitation for Arthritis in Dogs. February 2021.


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