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How to Safeguard Against Arthritis in Dogs and Cats


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Arthritis in dogs and cats is a common issue among pets once they reach middle age. As it does with humans, the condition can cause pain, discomfort and left untreated may also lead to other conditions.

Arthritis can negatively affect pets’ lives, but early detection can make an enormous difference. Find out below what signs to look for and steps to take to safeguard your pets as they mature.

What is arthritis in dogs and cats?

Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that commonly develops in pets and people as we age. Over time, the wear and tear on the joints and cartilage that connect our bones can lead to inflammation, pain and stiffness.

Joints may become unstable, causing abnormal movement of the bones at those connective points. This can easily go unnoticed when we’re still young and limber but over time this abnormal movement of bone can erode the cartilage in the joint. The result is that bone ends up rubbing against bone. This can lead to pain and chronic inflammation.

Some breeds are more prone to arthritis than others, so taking preventative measures can be highly valuable. Arthritis in dogs is often more common in big breeds like the German Shepherd or Labrador. Feline breeds that can be more genetically prone to arthritis include the Persian, Scottish Fold, Maine Coon and Siamese cat.

Read more about these different cat breeds and while you’re at it find out what cat breed is most like you!

limited mobility is a sign of arthritis in dogs

What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?

Signs of arthritis in dogs and cats can differ. In both cases you’ll notice changes to the way they behave physically. Here are some signs of arthritis in dogs:

Walking stiffly or limping

One of the first and most obvious signs your dog may have arthritis is a change in how they walk.

If they start limping or walking stiffly with no sign of injury, they may have arthritis. However, it’s always good to get your vet to rule out basic possibilities such as a thorn in the paw or some other injury like a torn ligament or sprained leg.

Slowing down

Dogs are known for their limitless energy and while old age can come with a bit of a cool-off period, this is generally gradual. While dogs may naturally become more sedentary as they grow old gracefully, a sudden decline in their normal movement may signify arthritis.

Signs include resistance to regular walking or running activities or an unwillingness to climb stairs and jump as they normally would.

stiffness and slowness can indicate arthritis in cats

Signs of arthritis in cats

As with dogs, the first thing to look for in cats is a change to the way they walk. Limping or walking stiffly is a common arthritic symptom in both cats and dogs. However, there are some signs of arthritis in cats that differ from those in dogs.

Here are some other signs of arthritis in cats:

Urinating or defecating outside of litter box

Cats are clean by nature. Once cat litter box training is done and dusted, any new bout of peeing or pooping outside of their designated go-zone is a clear indication something is awry. This of course could be something as simple as being on heat and sending spray signals to members of the opposite sex. (And is one reason many cat parents decide to neuter and spay their cats).

Other possible reasons for going in the no-go zone can include pain, injury or illness – and arthritis is among these. As PetMD shows, cats with arthritis may find jumping in and out of their litterbox too painful.

Excessive grooming

Take note if your cats starts excessively grooming one particular area. This can be indicative of pain (and can also highlight where the pain is located). Cats with arthritis may groom excessively in an attempt to salve the pain.

Unfortunately excessive grooming can have knock-on effects because after a while the fur in that area can fall out and the skin starts to get irritated. Read about obsessive compulsive disorders in dogs to see how excessive behaviour can be problematic in its own right.

Under grooming

On the other hand cats with arthritis can lose their usual limber capabilities and the pain and stiffness can make it hard to reach some parts of their body.

This can result in under grooming and an unkempt looking cat. Now if there are two words that simply don’t match, they are ‘unkempt’ and ‘cat’. If this happens, it’s wise to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

e-ray to examine for signs of arthritis in dogs

How to prevent arthritis in dogs and cats

Although arthritis in dogs and cats can be severe and limit their quality of life, many of the steps to safeguard against arthritis developing in the first place are fairly simple. And ironically, are also about ensuring your pet has a good quality of life when they’re young and healthy.

Here are some examples of how to prevent arthritis in dogs and cats:


Obesity is a primary cause of arthritis and unfortunately it’s a condition that’s becoming more and more prevalent in pets. But it’s also fairly simple to prevent. Obesity and being overweight are easily symptomatic of an imbalance of energy intake verse energy output.

A good place to begin remedying this is by not overfeeding and by feeding the right foods over the wrong ones. Read National Pet Obesity Day to discover ‘good’ treats and other ways to protect your pet’s weight.

Gaining too much weight places undue pressure on your pet’s muscles, ligaments, bones and joints leading to degeneration. Certain breeds (like the Labrador and Maine Coon cat) are more prone to weight gain and obesity than others, so research yours to know their needs.


Diet is often underrated but a nutritionally balanced diet that gives your pet all the protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals they need can prevent a whole host of illnesses. It’s a bit like the old ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ saying, because spending that little extra on the right pet food and feeding the right potions can truly safeguard your pet’s health.

Big dogs especially have lots of trouble when they aren’t fed properly and this starts when they’re still puppies. A puppy grows at an exponential rate and without the right balance of healthy food at the right times their musculoskeletal system isn’t able to develop properly. This is also why hip dysplasia in dogs tends to be more common in bigger breeds.

Feeding your pet well has lots of perks and can also prevent cat and dog skin conditions.

Find out more about research by NZ vets on reducing the prevalence of hip dysplasia in dogs:

Supplements and medication

While the science of supplements preventing arthritis in dogs and cats is unconfirmed, they may be able to reduce discomfort and pain associated with the condition.

Speak to your vet about a supplement that contains chondroitin and glucosamine to provide joint support and slow down loss of cartilage. Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA from fish oil can also do wonders to support your pet’s nervous system and help reduce pain and inflammation.

Medication can also be a good solution, and potentially an even better one. They’ve been scientifically proven to make a different to many cats and dogs suffering from arthritis. Just make sure you lean towards what your vet recommends. They have the industry knowledge to make informed decisions around medications.

exercising without walking to limit stress on joints

Exercising your pet isn’t just a nice-to-have, when it comes to their health and happiness it’s an absolute must. Regular physical exercise builds and maintains muscle and joint strength and keeps them fit.

That said, know your pet’s limits according to their age and breed. For example, puppies and older dogs need exercise, but their musculoskeletal system also mustn’t be taxed. Little dogs are growing quickly and older dogs may not be as supple. Read about the best puppy games to play and ways of exercising dogs without walking.

Animals that are fit are less likely to experience arthritis. So, it’s really about finding a healthy balance of the right type and amount of exercise.

In addition to your pet’s age, always tailor their exercise to their breed needs. For example, a Border Collie can run miles, but IVDD in Dachshunds is common so less is more with them.

Pet insurance for a softer landing

One of the best ways to safeguard your pet against a wide range of unforeseen illnesses and injuries is having a quality pet insurance plan. With a dog insurance or cat insurance plan, if you’re covered for something you won’t have to question the cost of the bills versus the long-term health cost on your pet.

Good veterinary care when your pet needs it can help identify problems as they arise, leading to better management plans or preventative measures.

You can get one or more months of free cat insurance or dog insurance with PD Insurance when you sign up online, depending on your pet’s age. Click below to find out more.

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