by Dr. Colleen Carney

Arthritis is defined as a painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints.  Generally, we think of degenerative arthritis caused by loss of the cartilage or cushioning of the joint.  Genetics, age, weight and activity play a role in the development of arthritis in pets. Pain is one of the most underdiagnosed problems in pets.  Here we will focus on the signs of arthritis, diagnosis and treatment.  

Signs of arthritis in dogs and cats include:

-pet is less active, unwilling to go on usual walks, difficulty with stairs or jumping on furniture

-difficulty rising

-not using litter box, poor grooming

-yelping or lameness with exercise

-swollen joints, excessive licking of joints

-change in behavior ie aggression, hiding or withdrawn

Diagnosing arthritis:

-Thorough examination by a veterinarian looking for changes to joints, evaluating gait, feeling for “pops” or “clicks” and assessing range of motion

-Radiographs (x-rays) can be beneficial for gauging the severity of changes to the bones and joints

-Response to therapy is often indicative of arthritis

Treating arthritis:

Though there is no cure for arthritis, there are options for providing comfort and slowing the progression of the disease.  Treatment for arthritis requires what we call a multimodal approach, ie there are many ways to improve your pet’s joint health, and using several techniques together will often have the best results.

Weight management is imperative for reducing stress on the joints and alleviating signs of arthritis

Nutrition plays a role in joint health as well, ask your veterinarian about available diets formulated for dogs prone to arthritis

-Regular low impact exercise helps keep those joints in motion

-Early in the development of arthritis, joint supplements such as glucosamine/chondroitin, fish oil, or new egg shell protein therapy are recommended.  These products keep the joint fluid and cartilage healthy, allowing for proper cushion and lubrication of the joint.  We recommend Dasuquin and Movoflex based on current studies for supplements; or the injectable Adequan is also available.  

-Medical management may also be suggested for your pet.  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories available from your vet will help to eliminate pain associated with arthritis.  These medications should only be used with recommendation from your vet, and monitoring of bloodwork to ensure the pet is healthy for use of chronic medication.  Additionally there are other medicines available for pain that the doctor might suggest.

Laser therapy can be used to target pain and inflammation without adding more medication.  Laser therapy works by delivering light to the source of pain and using the body’s natural defenses against inflammation to reduce pain.  Treatments can take only a few minutes and can be done on a schedule that is appropriate for your pet.  Ask us about how we can start this therapy for your pet!


Helpful resources:,, Colorado State University sports medicine and rehabilitation

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