Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

What Is Arthritis?

In this discussion, we are talking about Osteoarthritis (OA), otherwise known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). It is completely different from septic arthritis (caused by infection), or immune-mediated arthritis (caused by a malfunction of the immune system, similar to rheumatoid arthritis in people).

OA is chronic and progressive inflammation of a joint, leading to the loss of cartilage, thickening of the joint capsule, and bumpy abnormal new bone formation (osteophytes), causing chronic pain and eventual limb dysfunction or disuse.

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs and Cats

  • Congenital deformities such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas

  • Body conformation due to people breeding animals without regard to their health, such as any dog with short crooked legs (chondrodysplasia) as with basset hounds, bulldogs, dachshunds, munchkin cats, or with sloped hips like German shepherds.

  • Being over weight

  • Trauma such as broken bones, torn ligaments, infection of a joint

  • Inappropriate nutrition

  • Routine over-exercise or routine intense exercise

NOTE: OLD AGE IS NOT A CAUSE OF ARTHRITIS Most pets who have osteoarthritis were born with the joint problems that lead to osteoarthritis due to their breed standard or due to poor breeding, even though they are not usually diagnosed until they are older.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

Pre-clinical Stage: The dog has a congenital condition such as luxating patellas, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplaisa, or chondrodysplasia that lead to OA. Other common risk factors are being over weight, routinely performing intense exercise, joint trauma. However there are no symptoms yet. ​

Mild Clinical Signs:​​

  • Mild soreness or stiffness after heavy exercise

  • Subtle changes in joint loading

  • Subtle changes in stance at standstill

Moderate Clinical Signs:

  • Obvious changes in limb loading

  • Obvious changes in stance at standstill, body weight distribution changes

  • Limping even without exercise

  • Difficulty in getting up

  • Decreased range of motion of affected joint

  • Crepitus of the joint (I can feel the osteophytes when flexing or extending the joint)

  • Possible aggression due to pain

  • Decreased activity- may not play as long as before

Severe Clinical Signs:

  • Reluctance, extreme difficulty, or downright refusal to go up or down stairs, jump onto furniture or into a vehicle

  • Muscle loss

  • Limited activity- the dog won't do anything unless encouraged

  • Aggression due to pain

  • Severe weight shifting

  • Severe limping

  • Extreme difficulty in getting up from a sitting or laying position

Healthy dog with normal standing posture. Weight is properly distributed, head held high, muscles in good condition.