Elderly Pets Part 2 – Arthritis and Your Pet

by Dr. Lance Weidenbaum and Dr. Michael Shaff

Elderly dog lying on his back basking in the sun.

As dogs and cats age they suffer many of the same conditions that affect their owners. Arthritis is common in older animals and is just as painful and frustrating for them as it is for us. We routinely check older pets for flexibility and mobility, to identify any problems, yet we are not with your animals on a daily basis. Your help is needed to ensure they live comfortable and healthy lives, so please alert us when you notice changes in their condition.

Among the warning signs of arthritis in both dogs and cats are:

  • Decreased activity or sleeping more
  • A reluctance to play
  • Limping or favoring a leg
  • Difficulty sitting or standing
  • Difficulty rising from sitting or lying down
  • Difficulty jumping, running, climbing stairs, climbing cat tree
  • Difficulty getting into the car
  • Stiff or sore joints
  • Slow movements, appearance of discomfort 
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of alertness
  • Irritability or mood changes
  • Sensitive when touched on shoulder, hip, back, knee, etc. (see diagram below)

If your pet shows these symptoms, please call us so we can diagnose whether your pet has arthritis or some other condition, and can help you develop a management plan. 

Diagram of animal skeleton with typical spots affected by arthritis marked.

Diagram of affected areas applies to both dogs and cats.

Most pets can be helped with medication, dietary supplements, and supportive nutrition. Treatments for arthritis can include:

  • Reaching proper weight and eating a healthy diet
  • Identifying the right medication and supplements for your pet
  • Glucosamine, chondroitin and supplements with Omega-3 fatty acids can help both dogs and cats.
  • Diets are now available containing the correct doses of supplements for your pet’s needs. Please ask us about them when you visit.
  • Dogs may be helped by veterinary prescribed NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Never give over the counter drugs to your pet without a veterinarian’s guidance. OTC drugs are formulated for humans and can be fatal to pets. 

You can help your pet at home in many ways. 

For dogs:

  • A heated bed can relieve aches and pains.
  • Staircases and ramps of various sizes can help any size dog reach a favorite spot on the bed or get into the car. 
  • Raise food and water dishes up within easy reach. 
  • Dogs with severe arthritis may welcome the support of a sling when relieving themselves. 
  • Playing more gently and walking more slowly will make your arthritic dog more comfortable. 

For cats:

  • Cats get arthritis in the same places as dogs and humans (see diagram above).
  • Cats have fewer options for pain medications than dogs as they process NSAIDS differently. Never medicate a cat without veterinary consultation! 
  • A heated bed or a basket lined with a soft pillow can help reduce pain on pressure points. 
  • Cats will welcome a staircase or ramp up to their favorite perch. 
  • Kitty may miss his mark in the litter box as he’s no longer able to squat properly. Try using a larger, shallower container such as an under-the-bed storage box, or cut down one side of the litter box for easier access. Placing doggy pee pads under the litter box will neatly soak up accidents. 

We appreciate you trusting us with your pet’s care, and we welcome your questions and thoughts. Please call us at any time to discuss your pet’s needs. 

In Part 1 of Elderly Pets Need Extra Care, we discussed how aging affects your pet.  In Part 3 we’ll share information about cancer, and in Part 4 we’ll explain kidney disease and how to care for your pet with this condition.  Part 5 will be about how we evaluate your pet’s quality of life when you are faced with the difficult decision of euthanizing an animal.

Arthritis graphic: Base skeleton image credit: liverpoolhls / Foter / CC BY  Modified by Karen Newcombe. 

Comfy old dog: Photo credit: W J (Bill) Harrison / Foter / CC BY

Phone: 954-421-2244   Serving Deerfield Beach, Coconut Creek, and Boca Raton from our offices at Hillsboro Blvd and  Powerline Road in the Dunkin' Donuts plaza.    © Deer Run Animal Hospital 2019