Understanding Osteoarthritis in Dogs and Cats

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common condition that occurs as joints degenerate with age. While there is no cure for OA, there are many strategies to slow its progression and provide pain relief to our pets. Recognizing the subtle signs of OA early is crucial for timely diagnosis and effective treatment.

Signs of Osteoarthritis

Detecting osteoarthritis can be more straightforward in dogs than in cats. Cats, like many animals, tend to hide their illnesses until they become severe. Both dogs and cats can exhibit lameness (limping), but in cats, you might notice a reluctance to jump or an increased preference for staying on the ground. Both species may show decreased willingness to exercise or play and might appear “stiff” or sore after activity.


It’s essential to consult your veterinarian if you observe any signs of osteoarthritis in your pets. Many people attribute lameness in older animals to “just being old,” but significant improvements in pain relief and quality of life are possible with proper treatment. Your veterinarian may take radiographs of your pet’s joints to diagnose OA and then offer a variety of treatment options.

Treatment Options

One of the most critical factors in treating osteoarthritis is weight management. Overweight or obese pets are at higher risk for developing OA, and their disease progresses faster due to the excess weight stressing their joints. Your veterinarian can assess if your pet needs to lose weight and suggest methods for doing so. Additional treatments for OA may include:

  • Oral Medications: Pain relief and anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Injectable Medications: Long-lasting treatments administered by your vet.
  • Prescription Joint Diets: Special diets formulated to support joint health.
  • Joint Supplements: Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin.
  • Physical Rehabilitation: Exercises and therapies to improve mobility.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgical options may be considered.

The signs of OA may be subtle, but owners should discuss OA with their veterinarian if they notice limping, reluctance to jump, or decreased desire to exercise in their pets. By visiting a veterinarian, they will be able to diagnose and provide proper treatment for your furry friends. Also, I know we love giving treats to our pets, but keeping your pet at a healthy weight is important for OA treatment and slowing the disease progression. The good news is that there are many treatment options available to improve your pet’s quality of life while living with OA.

For more information on osteoarthritis in pets and additional resources, click on the links below, and for more information on pet care visit the IVMA’s Pet Owner’s Resources: