Osteoarthritis in Pets

Labrador Retriever

Osteoarthritis is an unfortunate condition that can affect many types of animal and is also not uncommon in humans. Cartilage between joints deteriorates and new bone forms, causing pain, stiffness and inflammation. Dogs, cats and other pets can succumb to these symptoms, and this can impact on their quality of life.


According to estimates, the condition affects something between 8% and 20% of the UK's dog population. In total, roughly 6.5 million British dogs are believed to be affected by osteoarthritis. It is much harder to estimate the number of cats who are living with the condition, as it is often much easier to miss the symptoms in cats than it is in dogs.

The Causes of Osteoarthritis

Currently, the factors that cause or contribute to osteoarthritis are not clearly understood. However, there are a number of things that are believed to play a role. Leading theories suggest that it is caused by one of two situations.

One, known as secondary osteoarthritis, happens when normal cartilage is subjected to unusual forces which it is not equipped to cope with. Examples include dislocation or instability of joints. The other happens when abnormal cartilage fails to cope with the normal forces of a pet's day-to-day life. This is known as primary osteoarthritis.

Identifying Osteoarthritis in Pets

There are a number of things to look out for that can help you to identify whether your pet is suffering from osteoarthritis. Commonly, owners see changes in their pet's behaviour and reduced levels of activity. Stiffness after periods of resting and apparent lameness are also fairly typical signs that your pet may be suffering from the condition. However, the type and extent of pain can vary between pets or even within a single animal over time, so identifying the condition can sometimes prove less straightforward.

Whatever your pet's visible symptoms, professional diagnosis is the definitive way to identify the condition. Simple examination by a qualified vet may be enough to diagnose the problem, or it may be necessary to perform further tests such as joint fluid analysis, radiography, or an MRI or CT scan.

Treating Your Pet's Osteoarthritis

If your pet has been diagnosed with the condition, there is sadly no way to cure the problem entirely. There are, however, treatments that can manage the symptoms and ensure your pet has the best quality of life possible. Pain-killing and anti-inflammatory medications like Metacam or Rimadyl can help reduce your pet's discomfort significantly.

Dogs and cats can be sensitive to these types of pet medicines, so make sure you use products that have been prescribed or recommended by your vet. Nutritional supplements are marketed as a way to manage and treat osteoarthritis, but there is little clinical evidence to back up the claim that they are useful for this purpose. Managing your pet's weight is a very effective way to relieve discomfort and slow the deterioration of the condition. Exercise forms an important part of a weight management process, as well as a way to maintain your pet's muscular health and potentially reducing discomfort as a result.

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