Treating arthritis in dogs and cats

Arthritis is a common problem for older pets and the cause needs to be considered when choosing treatment. Treatment often needs to address the cause as well as treating the symptoms.

Weight control

If a dog or cat is carrying too much weight, this puts added pressure on the joints, causing more joint damage, and so more severe arthritis. Helping a pet reach its ideal weight is often the first stage of dealing with arthritis.

Exercise programmes

The key here is “moderation”. Some exercise helps to keep stiff joints supple and mobile while too much can make arthritis worse. The precise exercise requirements depend on the individual, but in general,  ‘little and often’ is the aim.

This means 15 – 20 minutes twice daily rather than one long 40 minute session every morning. Other physical therapies, such as hydrotherapy and physiotherapy are also now used to help affected dogs.


Various  drugs ease the signs of arthritis by relieving pain and improving the function of the joints. There are at least three different groups of drugs in common use.

Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

This group of drugs act to lessen the inflammation of damaged joints, and they also provide pain relief. Aspirin is the best known drug in this group, but nowadays there are many other, more modern and more effective NSAIDs that are commonly used to treat arthritic dogs. They may be in the form of injections,  tablets or liquids, and a regular dose can transform an old dog or cat’s quality of life. Human versions of these drugs can cause serious or even fatal results in dogs and cats, so owners need to follow the guidance given by their vet.

Glucocorticoids (also known as ‘steroids’ or ‘cortisone’)

These drugs can provide a higher level of anti-inflammatory effect than NSAIDs, but with more severe and obvious side effects in the long term. They can be given as tablets, or in exceptional cases, an injection directly into affected joints may be used.

Cartilage sparing and stimulating drugs

These drugs work by promoting healing of damaged cartilage. They do not seem to be effective in every case, but are often worth trying. There are various treatment regimes: typically they can be given by a once-weekly injection for four weeks, repeated every  6 months. Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate can also provide help with the health of the joints.

There are other ways that arthritis can be helped, including special diets and acupuncture. Rarely, dramatic surgery e.g. to install a new titanium hip can be carried out.

Long term management

The correct arthritis management programme is different for each individual dog or cat. It’s best to work closely with your vet to devise a strategy which is custom-made for a pet’s particular situation.

Many people think that their elderly pets are getting slow and creaky simply due to “old age” whereas in fact, the problem can often be treated very effectively: old dogs can indeed be “made young” again.

This week I talked about arthritis on the Pat Kenny Show.

By the way, the lovely, soft beds that I mentioned are called Orvis. My own dogs love these memory-foam based beds and to date, they have not chewed them at all.

Listen to the podcast:

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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