Osteoarthritis in Cats and Dogs

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis (OA - Degenerative joint disease) is one of the most common causes of lameness in pets.  It causes pain and loss of range of motion of the joint due to the deterioration of joint cartilage.  Cartilage is a resilient, smooth tissue that lines the joints providing shock absorption and nearly frictionless joint movement.  The disruption of cartilage leads to increased friction and inflammation in the joints that erodes the bone, and can cause formation of new bone called osteophytes (bone spurs).  These bone spurs interfere with normal joint movements causing pain.  The joint cartilage will eventually wear away resulting in the underlying bone (subchondral bone) grinding against the adjacent bone. The subchondral bone is rich in nerve supply, so when it's exposed this is a main source of pain with OA.  Osteoarthritis is seen frequently in overweight pets.  OA is diagnosed by a thorough orthopedic examination and radiographs (x-rays).  

How is it treated?

Treatment of osteoarthritis helps to reduce pain and inflammation, improve joint function, and slow or halt the arthritic process.  Typical OA treatment includes weight management as well as drug therapy. In addition, surgical correction of underlying orthopedic issues can help to slow the progression.  Weight management plays a huge role in taking extraneous weight off of the joints.  Environmental modification, such as carpets for increased traction on smooth floors, ramps instead of stairs can help reduce unnecessary stress on joints.  There are numerous pharmaceuticals and neutraceuticals available to alleviate pain associated with osteoarthritis.

What is the prognosis for osteoarthritis?

An animal treated for OA can live a relatively comfortable, productive life, however there are cases in which the osteoarthritis is not manageable and the animal may live the rest of its life in pain.  Talk to your veterinarian regarding a personalized treatment plan to slow the progression of OA.

What symptoms can present as the disease progresses?


  • Reduced activity
  • Lameness/stiffness
  • Weight gain
  • Reluctance to jump or climb stairs
  • Trouble getting up from lying position
  • Licking/chewing on the affected joint(s)

  • Persistent early stages
  • Anorexia
  • Muscle loss - weight loss
  • Pressure sores
  • Mental stress
  • Constipation
  • Dogs - excessive panting
  • Trouble getting up from lying position resulting in accidents in the house

If your pet exhibits any of the following symptoms immediate veterinary assistance is needed regardless of the disease.
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Prolonged seizures
  • Uncontrollable vomiting/diarrhea
  • Sudden collapse
  • Profuse bleeding - internal or external
  • Crying/whining from pain