Managing Osteoarthritis in Dogs and Cats

Just like people, dogs and cats can suffer from arthritis. Arthritis is any condition that results in inflammation within a joint. Joint inflammation typically causes progressive irritation and thickening of the joint lining, bone spur formation, and erosion of the cartilage surfaces. These things result in joint pain which leads to decreased range of motion and decreased function.


Most commonly in dogs and cats, osteoarthritis develops as the result of injury to, instability of, or disease within the joint. If we can identify a specific cause of osteoarthritis, we may have surgical treatment options that could improve comfort and function of the joint and slow the worsening of the arthritis. However, once arthritis has started, it cannot be reversed and requires lifelong medical management to maximize your pet’s quality of life.


The components to the medical management of osteoarthritis include:

(1)  Keeping your pet at a lean body weight. It has been repeatedly proven that in animals (and people!) that being overweight will increase the likelihood and speed of progression of a variety of diseases, including arthritis. Keeping your pet lean (or weight loss if they are overweight) will help to reduce the stress on their joints.


(2)  Maintaining moderate levels of low-impact exercise. Too little activity can lead to stiff, painful joints and loss of muscle while too much activity can lead to injury – finding the right balance is the key to maximizing strength and mobility while limiting stress or strain on arthritic joints. Walking and swimming are great ways to exercise arthritic pets!


(3)  Medications to manage symptoms. Typically, this means starting with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – there are many NSAID formulations that are designed specifically for dogs and cats. NSAIDs are commonly used to decrease the discomfort associated with arthritic joints. They are usually a safe starting point when it comes to trying to improve joint comfort but like any drug, they can have side effects and should only be given when prescribed by a veterinarian. [Most NSAIDs you can find in human drug stores are dangerous for your dog or cat. Please do not give any over the counter medications unless specifically directed to do so by your vet.]


(4)  Joint supplements. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), avocado soy unsaponifiables (ASU) and many others are used either by themselves or in any number of combinations to make both veterinary and human formulated nutraceutical supplements. Some (omega-3 fatty acids, ASUs) have good evidence that they help decrease symptoms or slow the clinical progression of osteoarthritis. Others have anecdotal evidence of helping to decrease pain associated with arthritis and have at least been proven to not worsen arthritis. In addition to oral supplements, your dog or cat may benefit from an injectable supplement (i.e. Adequan). For recommendations, please ask your vet.


(5)  Regenerative medicine therapies. Use of stem cells, platelets, and other specialized protein products is one of the fastest growing areas of medicine. There is some data supporting the use of stem cells and platelet products for decreasing pain and slowing the progression of arthritis and these therapies can be applied to pets as well. Platelet and stem cell therapy is available at Sunstone.


If you have a dog or cat who is limping or slowing down or stiff from what you suspect is arthritis and you would like to have them evaluated or you would like to explore options for making them more comfortable, please feel free to schedule an appointment with Dr. Su. Appointments are available Monday – Thursday, 8am-6pm.

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