Osteoarthritis, also known as arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs and cats. Dogs are often affected by  arthritis in the later stages of their lives. One in five dogs will develop arthritis and 90% of cats that reach 12 years of age have arthritis.

Dogs are more prone to show signs of arthritis pain than cats. With dogs, a change in their activity level is one of the most common signs suggestive of arthritis.  Dogs may limp, be slow going up and /or down stairs, be reluctant to get on or off furniture, get tired easily with exercise, slow to sit down, slow to get up from a sitting or laying position, or be reluctant to jump up.  They can also have changes in their urination and/or defecation habits.


For cats, signs of pain include reluctance to jump, not using the litterbox, vocalization, changes in eating, sleeping, or grooming behavior, or isolating themselves from other members of the household. Limping in cats with arthritis is very uncommon but they will have a stiff or uneven gait. Even though chronic pain is very common in dogs and cats, it is treated far less often in cats than it is in dogs.  This is mainly due to the cat’s unique ability to hide pain making the diagnosis difficult.


There are several treatment options for treating pain due to arthritis.  Treatments for chronic pain include, but are not limited to the following: medication, diets, supplements, changes in their environment/home, exercise modification and physical therapy.



There are many different medications that can be used to help control chronic pain. Some of the more common medications include:

NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.   NSAIDs are anti-inflammatories and play a vital role in therapeutically controlling pain and inflammation in dogs.   The NSAIDs that are currently approved for use in dogs are Rimadyl, Previcox, Meloxicam, Galliprant, and Deramaxx.   There are currently no NSAIDs approved for use in cats at this time.

Gabapentin – reduces neurological pain and discomfort.   It can be used by itself but often works better when combined with other medications, such as an NSAID.  It is commonly used in dogs and cats.

Methocarbamol – this is a muscle relaxant but many times, pets with arthritis tense their muscles in attempt to relieve the pain.  Then the muscle becomes sore and more inflamed along with the arthritic changes they are already experiencing.

-Polysulfated Glycocosaminoglycans (PSGAGs)-these are joint protectants that can help modify and slow the progress of arthritic changes.   These are more likely to be beneficial if started in the early stages of arthritis.


Weight Management

If the pet is overweight, the extra weight puts more strain on their joints. Even a small amount of weight loss will decrease the stress on their joints and result in a significant improvement for the pet.


Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for dogs and cats involves exercise and manual therapy including joint mobilization and massage. Physical therapy aims to restore muscle strength, function and endurance.


Environmental Modification

Making sure that your pets home environment is supportive and “friendly” to your pets need…this includes padded beds, ramps instead of steps, raising their food and water bowls to a more comfortable height, and yoga mats to help provide traction so they can get up.  With cats, a litterbox with a side cut down to make it easier to get in and out is very helpful.


Chiropractic care and Acupuncture

Chiropractic care and acupuncture are becoming more popular to help manage pets with arthritis yielding excellent results. However, if you decide you want to try this with your pet, make sure the veterinarian you are dealing with is trained and certified.

Dogs and cats often suffer from the pain of arthritis but because it is their nature to hide pain, it can be difficult to determine that they have an issue.  There are many options to treat pain in dogs and cats to give them a more comfortable life.  If you have any concerns that your pet could be having arthritic issues, please contact us for a consultation and exam to determine the best way to make your pet comfortable and increase the quality of their life.