Arthritis (Osteoarthritis-OA)

Also known as
Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) occurs as a result of wear and tear on the joints over time.  Osteoarthritis is most common in older animals due to the progression of normal wear and tear over the years.   In some cases osteoarthritis will be present at an earlier age due to specific joint diseases such as hip dysplasia or cruciate disease.  These cause instability in the affected joint and therefore there is accelerated wear and tear. Rheumatoid arthritis which is common in humans is less common in dogs.

The most common symptom of osteoarthritis is lameness.  Often this will be intermittent or wax and wane.  Often it will be worse when your pet first gets up.  Some animals don’t have an obvious limp but may be generally stiff. They may be slow getting up after lying down, or may not be as enthusiastic about their walks as usual.  Often these signs of joint pain are mistaken for slowing down with age but osteoarthritis causes pain in and around your pet’s joint.

Osteoarthritis in cats

Because cats are relatively small and agile, and because arthritic changes in joints often affect both sides-for example both left and right hindlimbs-it can be hard to spot signs of obvious lameness. Arthritis may occur wherever there is a joint. It may affect the forelimbs, hindlimbs or spine, or a combination of these areas. Cats generally don’t limp even when they are in pain as they are especially good at hiding signs of pain. Instead, cats affected by arthritis are more likely to show subtle changes in their lifestyle or behaviour. The signs may manifest as sleeping more, grumpiness or lack of grooming. Learning to recognise these signs in your cat will allow you to monitor their condition and assess their response to any changes you make such as giving medication.

Osteoarthritis is a progressive and incurable condition but there are treatment options to help manage it and relieve the symptoms.


If your pet’s osteoarthritis is secondary to a specific problem e.g. cruciate ligament disease or patellar luxation, surgery may be an option to stabilise the joint and reduce the progression of the osteoarthritis.  In the most severe cases joint replacements may be an option but these are usually a last resort.


The most common class of drug used is non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) which provide both pain relief and reduce inflammation. There are various products available in different formulations.  Your vet will help you decide which one is most appropriate for your pet.  Side effects to the drugs we use are uncommon but all NSAIDs can potentially cause tummy upsets.  Sometimes other painkillers are used instead of or in conjunction with NSAIDs. Cartrophen is an injection given to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints.  It is usually administered as a course of 4 injections given 1 week apart.  Whist some dogs respond very well the degree and duration of improvement can be variable.

Weight control

This is a vitally important part of managing osteoarthritis.  Excess weight puts excess strain on the joints and greatly accelerates the wear and tear process.  If your pet is overweight then we will discuss a suitable diet plan with you.  Sometimes weight loss results in such an improvement in symptoms that we no longer need to use painkillers. Our veterinary nurses at Cinque Ports Vets run Weight Management Clubs to help you and your pet manage their weight loss.


It is vital to keep an arthritic pet moving to maintain muscle mass and joint mobility.  Exercise moderation is important, particularly for dogs.  Gentle regular exercise is preferable to occasional long or strenuous runs.  Although your dog may enjoy the exercise they will tend to be stiff and sore afterwards.  Try to find what level of exercise your pet can cope with that doesn’t aggravate the symptoms and do not exceed that.  Aim for several shorter walks each day.  If your pet has a ‘flare-up’ of osteoarthritis symptoms reducing the exercise for a few days can help the inflammation subside.

Hydrotherapy as a non-weight bearing exercise can help to improve muscle tone, improve the range of motion of the joints without putting stress on the joints and assist with weight loss. It is important to ensure that hydrotherapy is performed at a centre which is registered with the Canine Hydrotherapy Association. This means that they will regularly have been inspected and audited to receive their certification and will also liase with your veterinary practice in regards to progress and treatment. Hydrotherapy is performed in a controlled environment using warm water and specialised equipment. It is not the same as taking your pet swimming in cold water which causes constriction of their blood vessels near the skin and muscles, restricting their blood flow and making their muscles less efficient.  We can refer your pet to suitable centres for hydrotherapy.


These are dietary supplements which can help modify a disease process.  There is some evidence in humans that they slow the progression of osteoarthritis over time.  Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate are the most commonly used.  These products are very safe with minimal side effects but as they are not considered drugs the products on sale are not tightly regulated.  It is important to use a reputable brand of product as the quality and concentration of the ingredients varies widely and is very often reflected in the price. Your veterinary surgeon will be happy to help you decide which product will be best suited to your pet.

Complementary treatments

Some pets appear to respond well to treatments such as laser therapy and acupuncture.  We are able to offer both these services at Cinque Ports Vets.

Laser Therapy

Our Class IV deep tissue laser therapy machine is designed to offer a surgery-free, drug- free, non invasive treatment to:

  • reduce pain
  • reduce inflammation
  • speed healing

The laser uses a beam of laser light to deeply penetrate tissue without damaging it. Laser energy induces a biological response in the cells called ‘photo-bio-modulation’, which increases circulation, drawing water, oxygen and nutrients to damaged cells. This leads to reduced pain, reduced inflammation and increased healing speed. Laser therapy has been scientifically proven to be successful in treating post surgical pain and many acute and chronic conditions as listed below:

Acute Conditions Chronic Conditions
Post surgical healing and pain relief Degenerative Joint Disease
Wounds Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Allergies Periodontal Disease
Infections Lick Granulomas
Cuts/Bites Geriatric Care
Inflammations Hip Dysplasia
Tooth extraction pain relief Tendonitis
Sprains,strains and fractures Otitis and much more!

For more information and FAQ’s please click here Commonly Asked Questions

Our Pet Health Counsellors offer free Mobility Clubs to help assist you and your pet cope with the problems osteoarthritis and aging can cause. Why not answer our Canine or Feline Mobility Questionnaire and see if your pet could benefit.
Click on the videos below to watch more about arthritis in dogs and how to help spot the signs of arthritis in your cat.

Please click on the videos below to see two dogs with naturally occurring osteoarthritis, who were trialled on Royal Canin Mobility diets. The before videos are taken on Day 1 and the after videos are taken on Day 50.

Useful links:

Caring For Your Older Dog

You can do a lot to ensure that your dog’s senior years are also golden ones. The point at which your dog reaches senior status varies considerably according to their breed and size. Giant breeds, which tend to have a shorter lifespan than smaller breeds, are viewed as senior at 5-6 years of age but smaller breeds can reach double figures before showing similar signs of ageing.

As your dog grows older it is important to be more observant about their behaviour. Start keeping an eye on them for any indications that they are beginning to feel ready to start taking things more steadily. Age related changes can creep in stealthily and may initially be quite subtle. It can be easy to miss them when you see your dog on a daily basis. Often it is when someone who hasn’t seen your dog for a while, comments on a change in their behaviour or appearance. This often happens when your vet sees them for their annual booster appointment.

Common signs of ageing:

  • Less active
  • Sleeping longer and more deeply
  • Less enthusiastic about going for walks or playing games
  • Reduced or loss of hearing
  • Impaired vision or blindness
  • Coat thinner
  • Greying around the muzzle
  • Muscle loss
  • Weakness in back legs

Joint Problems

If your dog no longer runs when going on walks or pesters to play games it can be due to discomfort. Arthritis is frequently a problem as your dog ages. Dogs can be very stoical and don’t complain much but by showing an unwillingness to go for a walk or by being stiff in the mornings after getting up, they can be communicating that they are in pain.
Freedom from pain can make a huge difference and this can be done using many different methods including anti inflammatories (pain relief), joint supplements, weight loss, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and physiotherapy.

Little changes in the home can also help your dog like a stairgate to stop them attempting the stairs or a ramp to help them get into the car.

Older dogs still enjoy going for walks as it provides stimulus but they should decide the pace. Several shorter walks rather than one long one will be easier for your dog to cope with and aid in preventing stiffness and loss of muscle mass. Frequent shorter walks also allow your dog to empty their bladder and bowels more frequently. This function can also deteriorate with age. Dogs with hearing or vision impairments may be happier to stay on a lead. Older dogs also tend to feel the cold more and thin coated breeds especially may benefit from a coat when going for walks on cold days.

Comfy beds are also especially important. Choose one that is easy for your dog to get in and out of and allows them to sprawl out as older dogs tend to curl up less.

Why not answer our mobility questionnaire to check your pet’s abilities.

Eating and Drinking

Older dogs require a senior diet to help support them during their ageing process.  Many dogs gain weight as they get older, partly because they are less active and spend more time asleep and also because their slower metabolism needs fewer calories. Other dogs can have the opposite problem and lose weight. Sometimes this is due to deterioration in their sense of smell and taste but often it can be a sign of an underlying chronic disease.
Fresh water should always be available. Sometimes an older dog will start to drink more than usual and in many cases this can be a symptom of kidney problems or diabetes. If you notice any of these changes you should arrange an appointment to come see a vet.

Vaccination and Worming

Older dogs immune systems become less efficient and weakened over time. Infections are picked up more easily and as a result, senior dogs may not be able to fight off disease as well as they could when they were younger. We advise regular annual boosters in senior dogs. Regular worming is also advisable, both for your dog’s health as well as your own.

Kidney Disease

Due to the ageing process important organs such as the kidneys may not function as well as they used to. It is important to detect these signs early and the warning signs are often increased thirst and increased urine production. Regular check- ups by your vet along with urine and blood testing can help detect the onset of kidney disease and we can help take steps to slow down the progression of the disease, allowing your dog a longer and better quality of life.

Dental Disease

Dental problems are very common in older dogs. Warning signs are smelly breath, salivation or chewing to one side. If left, it can lead to periodontal disease and loss of their teeth. The bacteria in plaque can even spread to other parts of the body and have been linked to heart, liver and kidney disease. If you notice any of these problems you should make an appointment to come and see us.

If severe dental disease is diagnosed, usually a general anaesthetic is required to scale and polish the teeth and remove any diseased ones. Many people worry about the risk involved with older pets having a general anaesthetic but although every anaesthetic carries a small risk, advances have been made in anaesthesia and it is now much safer. Intravenous drips and blood testing prior to anaesthesia also help. Many owners are amazed with the improvement of their dog’s quality of life once the pain of toothache has been removed.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is unfortunately very common in older dogs and certain breeds are particularly at risk. If you notice any of the signs listed below you should arrange an appointment to come and see a vet.

  • less happy to run or go for longer walks
  • pants a lot
  • takes a long time to recover from  walk
  • coughs
  • is restless at night and can’t settle

Brain Changes

Older dogs can suffer from signs of dementia and reduced brain function-cognitive dysfunction. Some of the first signs that can point towards senile changes are:

  • uncharacteristic aggression
  • confusion
  • a reduced ability to cope with stress or changes in their routine
  • frequent and sometimes loud vocalisation
  • urination or defecating in inappropriate places
  • memory loss-not remembering simple commands

We can support and hopefully improve their brain function by medication or dietary supplements so it is important you book an appointment to see us if you start to notice any of these signs.


Regular grooming can be helpful especially if your dog suffers from arthritis as this can make it painful for them to groom themselves. It also allows you to regularly check for any lumps and bumps and seek prompt veterinary attention if you are concerned. Regularly nail trims might also be required as older dogs nails tend to grow at a faster rate.

Even if your older dog seems fine it is essential to come and see the vet a minimum of twice a year, instead of just the usual annual booster check up. This will aid in the early detection of problems as a lot of changes can happen in 6 months to an older dog. Blood and urine tests will also help to check all their vital organs are functioning properly.
If you do spot anything, don’t put off booking an appointment because you are worried about what the vet may find. It is important problems are detected early to aid in treatment. Constant low grade pain reduces quality of life considerably and many owners are always amazed at the improvement of their dog’s wellbeing once their problem has been alleviated or controlled.

Early warning signs of health problems:

  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urine output
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Difficulty in movement
  • Incontinence
  • Lethargy
  • Unusual lumps and bumps
  • Behavioural changes
  • Discharges
  • Unpleasant odours
  • Hairloss
  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Senility with associated loss of memory

Our veterinary nurses also offer senior club appointments to help ease your pets into their mature and senior years as comfortably as possible. Why not answer our Senior Pet Questionnaire and come along and see us.

Click on the videos below to find out more about Cognitive Dysfunction and Feeding Your Older Dog.

Useful links:
Feeding Your Older Dog
Cognitive Dysfunction