Arthritis – Don’t Let Arthritis Slow Down Your Pet’s Golden Years!

Our Golden Years are supposed to be the time of our lives when we sit back, relax, and contemplate chewing a bone or scratching the pole, instead of charging into the undertaking with adolescent enthusiasm. Dexter, our 12-year-old Rot-Shepard mix is perfectly content to let Little Dog, our 5-year-old Chihuahua do all of the serious guard dogging and barking. Dexter, diagnosed with arthritis, is still active, attentive, and more than a little puppy-like when anticipating a ride in the car. Being a discerning soul, though, he limits himself to investigating only the most serious circumstances, and twice a day stare-downs with our 5-year-old tabby, Sophia.

Arthritis affects 25% to 30% of family pets. Even though it’s thought of as an old age disease, 65% of dogs over 6 years old show some signs. It can be as debilitating for our companions as for us. Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent and treat arthritis, improve the quality of life of those affected, and encourage our companion’s inner kitten or puppy to venture out and play.

Arthritis results from a breakdown of cartilage-the soft tissue that covers the ends of bones. water Synovial fluid, a mixture of water and proteins, fills the joint space where it lubricates the cartilage and allows it to slide. Ligaments hold the cartilage together and help keep the water synovial fluid in the space between the bones. When cartilage is damaged, whether from trauma or aging, inflammation occurs and leads to arthritis.

Symptoms of arthritis in pets include:

  • Stiffness
  • Reluctance to walk
  • Limping
  • Difficulty standing from resting
  • Swelling over joints
  • Pain
  • Licking painful areas
  • Loss of appetite
  • General ill-appearance

Any joint can be affected, and common sites include hips, elbows, knees, back, and neck. Many conditions can present with signs of arthritis, so before beginning any treatments it’s important to visit your veterinarian to be certain of the diagnosis.

Types of Arthritis

There are many types of arthritis, but all result from a breakdown of cartilage that leads to inflammation and pain from bones rubbing together.

  • Osteoarthritis sometimes called degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a slow, progressive breakdown of cartilage. It is what we commonly think of like the wear and tear associated with old age and accounts for approximately 90% of arthritis treated by veterinarians.
  • Hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition where the ball and socket joint of the hip is malformed and is most common in large breed dogs. Abnormal wear leads to the breakdown of cartilage.
  • Elbow and knee dysplasia result from malformed bones. The abnormal shape causes the cartilage to rub leading to inflammation, and sometimes bone chips in the joint space.
  • Knee stifle usually results from torn ligaments. Instability of the joint causes cartilage to rub.
  • Septic arthritis is an infection of the joint space. It can occur after an injury, or if bacteria from pneumonia, for instance, spread through the blood and lodges in a joint. Permanent damage can occur if not treated quickly.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This occurs when the body’s own defenses are directed against itself. Joints are commonplaces of attack.
Arthritis - Don't Let Arthritis Slow Down Your Pet's Golden Years!
Picture from: Wikihow

Veterinarian Visit

Holistic healing addresses the whole being, not just the physical aspect where the disease is most apparent. A holistic approach encompasses the evaluation and treatment of the emotional, mental, and environmental factors involved in your pet’s illness.

A holistic veterinarian will perform a full exam that includes a thorough assessment of your pet’s joints and spine by visual inspection and gentle movement of the joints to determine if arthritis is present. Blood tests are sometimes needed to eliminate the possibility of severe medical problems or infection, and x-rays may occasionally be needed to confirm the diagnosis. If a serious problem is suspected, it may be necessary to obtain a sample of the fluid from one of the affected joints.

Anti-inflammatory medications and analgesics such as Prednisone, Rimadyl, Dermaxx, and Palaprin to control pain have traditionally been used to treat arthritis and control pain. They do nothing to help heal the joint, however, and can have serious side effects including kidney and liver damage. Conventional medications can also worsen your pet’s condition because long-term use is harmful to cartilage, and prolonged corticosteroid (Prednisone) use often produces weight gain, further stressing damaged joints. (Cats should not be given aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.)

The holistic perspective sees each animal as an individual and evaluates what is best given its unique circumstances. It recognizes that the occasional use of conventional drug therapy may be appropriate for short-term management when given in conjunction with complementary therapies.

In addition to treatments your veterinarian may recommend, there are many simple things you can do to make your companion more comfortable and improve their quality of life.

Diet, Exercise And Preventive Care For Your Pet

A balanced diet with the proper calories, vitamins, and minerals is essential for health and wellbeing. Proper nutrition aids healing and can prevent or slow the progress of arthritis. A diet high in omega fatty acids is recommended for joint support. Overfeeding contributes significantly to the progress of arthritis-the more weight on the affected joint, the more friction, and pain. Many owners see an improvement in their pet from simply changing to a high-quality, preservative-free diet, and dropping a few pounds


Too little exercise causes the affected joints to stiffen, while too much activity intensifies pain and reduces healing. Short walks, 2 to 3 times is day are a good balance. Regular exercise can help prevent arthritis, and improves overall health-theirs and ours!


Of the many dietary supplements used to treat and prevent arthritis in pets and humans, glucosamine has been proven beneficial and is recommended by most veterinarians.

Glucosamine is a key component of cartilage that:

  • Stimulates the growth of cartilage
  • Helps hold water in the space between bones to lubricate joints
  • Prevents the breakdown of cartilage
  • Is a nutrient of the cells that produce cartilage

The amount of glucosamine in cartilage decreases as we age. Replacing glucosamine decreases breakdown, and stimulates the growth of new cartilage.

Glucosamine comes in liquid and capsule forms, and some experts believe the liquid form is more effective. The dose varies with the weight of your pet, and it can take 4 to 6 weeks to notice improvement. To prevent arthritis, many veterinarians are recommending supplementing diets early on, especially in large breeds.


Many other dietary supplements are believed useful in preventing and treating arthritis. Most have not been proven in controlled studies, but countless anecdotal stories testify to their effectiveness. Chondroitin aids in increasing joint fluid and inhibits the breakdown of cartilage, omega 3 fatty acids help build cartilage, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a natural anti-inflammatory. Cetyl myristoleate is a fatty acid derived from fish oils that have shown promise in treating arthritis in animals and humans. Others supplements include: white willow bark, boswellin, yucca powder, manganese ascorbate, bromelain, selenium (especially in conjunction with vitamin E), vitamins C, A, and E. While none of these are considered to have significant side effects when used in recommended doses, it’s always good to consult your vet before giving any supplement to your companion.


Simple changes around the home can make a substantial improvement in the quality of life.

Pet ramps make the difficult chore of stairs a breeze, not to mention turning the leap onto the couch or bed into a walk in the park. (Not that any of us condone those behaviors!)

Raising food and water bowls so the animal doesn’t have to bend is a simple trick that dramatically increases comfort, especially if the spine and neck are affected.

Orthopedic beds, designed to conform to a dog or cat’s body, reduce pressure on sensitive areas. This decreases stiffness and eases the pain. Those with heat compound the effect; warmth gently increases blood flood and soothes affected joints.

Warmth makes an enormous difference. We all have been chilled to the bones. Cold stiffens affected joints and decreases mobility. A warm environment and place to rest keep joints loose and reduces pain. Slip-on your dog’s sweater before they go outside if you live in colder climates.

Baths may not be your pet’s favorite activity, but short soaks with mineral salts or herbals like oat straw can soothe painful areas.


Who doesn’t like a massage? Our companions are no different. Gently massaging affected areas feels good, and increases blood flow, which reduces pain and aids healing. Essential oils like tea tree and eucalyptus reduce pain and inflammation and can be part of your dog’s massage. A drop or two is diluted in a high-quality massage carrier oil. Always allow your dog to smell the oil and give its okay before applying. Happy tails Canine Spa Line features a wonderful product called Unwind That Canine that contains an aromatic blend of botanicals and essential oils including arnica, rosemary, clove bud and cinnamon leaf that warms swollen joints and increases blood flow. Cats do not have the ability to metabolize essential oils so they should not be applied unless instructed by a professional aromatherapist.

Regular massage increases contact between you and your pet and potentially allows you to discover tumors or signs of other medical problems at very early, treatable stages.

Homeopathic and Complementary Treatments

Homeopathics are natural remedies given in very small doses that stimulate the bodies to own healing functions. You may be familiar with them for yourself, and they can be beneficial for your companion as well. Likewise, complementary treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture are being used more and more, with good results, for treating many conditions in animals, including arthritis. Other complementary treatments that show promise in treating arthritis are flower essences, healing touch, osteopathy, and acupressure.

Arthritis - Don't Let Arthritis Slow Down Your Pet's Golden Years!


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! The old wisdom applies here.
Proper nutrition-This includes vitamin supplements.
No overfeeding-Healthy weight is important; watch portion size and those treats!
Regular exercise-Our companions and we both benefit.
Supplements, including glucosamine, especially for large breeds and those prone to hip and joint disease.

Puppies that eat too much gain weight faster than their immature joints can support. Feeding slightly less than your pet wants has been shown to produce stronger joints and ligaments.

While it’s difficult to stop the march of time, a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition can delay or prevent arthritis in our companions. Even if the disease occurs, simple things can fill our pet’s golden years with the wonderment of puppy- or kittenhood, and allow them to enjoy the peaceful calm of maturity.

You can also check the wellness definition in veterinary medicine


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