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Osteoarthritis: How it affects your pet's joints

Updated: Mar 29

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a common problem among cats and dogs, especially older and larger breeds. While there is no cure for this progressive condition, you can take steps to identify the signs early and improve your pet's quality of life.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a progressive inflammation of the joint caused by the deterioration of cartilage, reducing shock absorption capabilities. As it progresses, bony changes around the joint develop, further increasing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. While many factors can cause OA, in some cases there are no obvious underlying causes. Several orthopedic diseases can lead to the development of OA through repeated injury to joint cartilage, such as:

  • Hip dysplasia

  • Elbow dysplasia

  • Patella luxation

  • Cranial cruciate ligament damage

  • Previous fractures

Signs of Osteoarthritis

As stated above, sometimes there can be no underlying causes, making it difficult to identify OA in its earlier stages. It's important to monitor pets, including cats, for pain as they may hide it until it becomes severe, especially as they age. Signs of OA include:

  • Activity impairment

  • Reluctance to exercise

  • Decrease in activity

  • Stiffness

  • Lameness

  • Inability to jump

  • Weight gain

  • Irritability or changes in behavior

  • Difficulty posturing to urinate

  • Loss of muscle mass over the limbs and spine

  • Hesitates before jumping up or down on surfaces

  • Avoids climbing stairs

If you suspect that your pet is showing signs of Osteoarthritis, take them in to be examined by a veterinarian who will give them a full physical exam and palpate their joints to test their full range of motion. X-rays may be recommended to help evaluate the degree of damage to the joints and rule out any other underlying conditions.

Treatment of Osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Osteoarthritis as it is a progressive disease. Prevention of OA through consistent diet and exercise in addition to joint supplements is the way to keep your pet's joints healthy. Treatment is typically focused on pain management, decreasing inflammation, and slowing its development to improve quality of life. Joint supplements are prescribed to improve joint function and slow down the progression of the damage, with Glucosamine and Chondroitin being two common supplements that are used in both humans and dogs.

Weight management is also important to ensure your pet doesn't add excess weight to their unhealthy joints. Obesity in any pet can predispose them to developing osteoarthritis, among other diseases associated with excessive weight gain. Talk to your veterinarian about diet and exercise plans for your pet to improve their health and help them lose weight.

Commonly used pain medication for OA is NSAID (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which help manage the pain that your pet may be facing. They help reduce pain and inflammation in the joints but can have severe side effects with continued use, especially for pets with liver or kidney problems. Your veterinarian will discuss the risks and benefits of using NSAIDs with your pet and may recommend regular bloodwork to monitor their health during its use.


While Osteoarthritis is a painful progressive disease, there are ways to manage it and help your pet live a long, happy life. Call us at 559-434-5470 to learn more about Osteoarthritis, or to book an appointment today on our website.



  1. American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Osteoarthritis in dogs

  2. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Osteoarthritis

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