Arthritis (osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease) in Dogs and Cats
10 April 2012
Although several types of arthritis exist, in the majority of cases and especially in older dogs and cats, the term ‘arthritis’ is commonly used to describe osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease.
Osteoarthritis results from destruction of the cartilage layer, together with a change in the amount or consistency of the lubricating fluid. Since cartilage has no nerve endings, the early stages of disease are relatively free of clinical signs and the condition is only noticeable once the bone surface becomes involved, resulting in joint inflammation and pain. The condition usually continues to deteriorate over time, as the original cartilage layer cannot be replaced.
Until a few years ago it was thought that osteoarthritis was common in dogs, but rare in cats. We know now that cats frequently suffer from degenerative joint disease too.
Arthritis is common in older dogs and cats, simply due to wear and tear of the joints – similar to the situation in humans. In these cases no other cause can be detected.
In some instances, especially in younger dogs or cats, an underlying cause may be found – examples include hip dysplasia, patella luxation (loose kneecaps), a fracture or ruptured ligaments due to trauma. In such cases, further degeneration can sometimes be prevented by surgical repair of the joint.
Typical signs of osteoarthritis in dogs are lameness, stiffness and difficulty rising from a resting position, especially after resting for a while. Often the stiffness or lameness improves after the animal has walked for a short period, but then gets worse again with strenuous exercise. Dogs will also stop playing and lag behind on walks or sometimes refuse to walk altogether. In severe cases, affected animals can yelp with pain when moving certain joints or can become withdrawn or even aggressive.
Cats with osteoarthritis are rarely lame, so it is usually much more difficult to diagnose the disease. Owners often observe a personality change - affected individuals can become seemingly lethargic or withdrawn and sometimes aggressive when touched or cuddled. Many cats show a reduced appetite and stop grooming, resulting in a matted or unkempt coat.
For further information see our Arthritis (osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease) information sheet