May 06 2015

6 Clues That Your Pet May Have Arthritis

Senior cat and dog

Due to improved nutrition, medicine, and husbandry, our pets are living longer and we, as pet owners, now have to manage a number of common senior issues.  Arthritis is a very common condition in our seniors, but sadly it is also one of the most common medical condition that is not recognized by owners.    One study showed that 60% of cats over the age of 6 and 90% of cats over the age of 14 have some form of degenerative joint disease, where as in dogs studies show that roughly 65% of dogs over the age of 7 have arthritic changes in their joints.

An even worse statistic is that 50% of dogs and closer to 90% of cats with arthritis go untreated because owners are not aware that their pet is suffering.

I hear all too often in the exam room …

1. “My pet is not in pain because he/she does not cry.”

SPOILER ALERT… This is NOT a very common sign when a pet is sore, especially with a pain that has come on gradually like arthritis.  I could tell you stories about pets who had had major trauma, it would make you wince to see them and nobody would question they hurt, and yet they never cried.  Our Brutus when he came in with his fractured leg never once cried, but I am sure we can agree a fracture hurts.

2.  “My pet does not limp so he/she cannot be hurting.”

SPOILER ALERT … Though this MAY be a clinical sign in some pets, often arthritis can be in the back, hips, or in both left and right limbs, and thus the pet may not show an obvious lameness.  Some pets you may see a postural change – a more hunched appearance when they stand.

So here are 6 signs most owners often do not realize may indicate that their pet is suffering from arthritis….


Often I hear that Blackie or Fido is just getting old.  A pet who is sleeping more, moving less, hiding, and/or interacting with the family less, should be examined by a veterinarian. This maybe a significant sign that your pet has a problem, whether it is pain from arthritis or another medical issue.


For many pets it becomes uncomfortable to turn to groom their back legs or along their spine.  Many owners do not notice that their pet is grooming less but with decrease grooming, you may see mats, white scales in the fur or a greasy un-kept looking coat.

Pets may instead lick and chew a spot they can a spot that hurts or a spot they can actually reach.  Therefore we may see instead over grooming resulting in hair loss and skin inflammation.


Pets typically suffer in silence but some pets may snap or bite when handled or brushed, especially if the petting, brushing, or handling increases their pain.


You may find your pet reluctant to do things that were once easy for him/her to do; getting in or out of the car, a reluctance to jump up or down onto the furniture, cat perches or counters, or a difficulty with stairs.


Muscle atrophy can occur over a few months of inactivity.  This is most noticeable when only one limb is affected, as you will see one leg is thinner than the other.  In most cases the muscle atrophy occurs symmetrically and thus less obvious.


CATS:  Location, location, location – true in real estate and litter box placement!  If the litter box is too difficult for a senior cat to get to, they will find an easier location.  Also that once perfectly good box may now have sides that are too high and some cats will have difficulty getting into and out of the box.  My own old girl (Madison who lived to be 23) had an easy access box with the front cut out, for low-level entry, BUT due to arthritis in her back she was too painful to posture (hunch down) so as she stood in the box she would urinate over the side of the box.  This was a sign to me that it was time to add to my management of Madison’s arthritis.

DOGS:  Though our dogs may not use litter boxes, one should monitor your dog and ensure she postures normally to urinate & defecate.  With arthritis along the spine it may become uncomfortable to posture and for female dogs, not posturing will increase their risk of urinary tract infections.  As well, fecal incontinence in some seniors, can be associated with pain and discomfort secondary to arthritis.

Want to know more on what you can do to help your senior pet?

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