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Your Guide to Your Pet's Joint Health

Why and How to Prioritize Their Mobility at Every Age

As a pet parent, you spend time making sure that your furry family member is well taken care of every day. But as you take care of your dog or cat, it isn’t always easy to know when something is amiss. This is particularly true when it comes to your pet’s joint health.

After all, what is there to worry about if your dog or cat is not limping or showing any signs of pain, right?

The reality is that throughout the life of your dog or cat, their joint health will play an essential role in their overall quality of life and wellbeing. By taking a proactive approach to their joint health, you can help stave off potential joint issues, as well as tackle any joint problems your furry family member faces.

“Quality of life is really impacted when we have joint disease,” says Dr. Elyse Olechnowicz, Northeast Area Medical Director at Vetco Total Care . “Even the way our pets interact with each other and their pet parents. They are not as excited about walks, don't want to be pet as much, brushed as much—that's impacting the way they interact with the world.” 

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What is joint health?

Joint health concerns for both dogs and cats center around a few common culprits.

One of the most common joint issues for both dogs and cats is degenerative joint disease, — also called osteoarthritis or simply arthritis. As your dog or cat ages, their cartilage degenerates, leading to the onset of arthritis. It's estimated that about 20% of dogs over the age of 7 and 90% of cats over age 12 will suffer from joint-related issues due to arthritis.

And while most joint health discussions revolve around osteoarthritis, there are other potential joint issues for your dog or cat. These include:

  • Joint injuries: In some cases, a ligament tear, dislocation or fracture can lead to joint issues. Rather than developing over the long term, like degenerative joint disease, joint injuries are caused by a specific event.
  • Abnormal development: If your dog or cat’s joints did not develop properly, it could lead to joint concerns, even early on in their life.
  • Acquired joint diseases: Joint issues can also be related to other health issues that cause damage to your pet’s joints. Examples of acquired joint diseases include immune disease, infectious disease and cancer.

Is your cat or dog predisposed to joint issues?

In addition to understanding what joint issues your pet might face, it is also important to note that certain conditions can predispose your furry friend to joint problems.

Common conditions that increase your dog’s or cat’s likelihood of dealing with joint issues include:

  • Previous injuries such as fracture or ligament tears
  • Hip or elbow dysplasia
  • Obesity

Certain breeds are more prone to joint issues than others. If you have a Himalayan, Persian, Maine Coon or Siamese cat, they be more likely to develop joint problems. Large dog breeds such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, Labradors, Retrievers, St. Bernards and Mastiffs may also be at an increased risk.

How to identify joint concerns in your dog or cat

Unfortunately, it can be hard for pet parents to detect joint issues in your dog or cat. While some pets will show outward signs, this is not always the case, particularly with cats who are masters at hiding their pain.

  • Less excitement about going on walks
  • Excessive licking, particularly of their back legs or paws
  • Difficulty getting onto the couch or bed
  • Decreased activity and playfulness
  • Less desire to be pet or brushed

  • Difficulty jumping or decreased jumping activity
  • Decreased activity and playfulness
  • Overgrooming a specific area
  • Undergrooming due to pain or stiffness
  • Less desire to be pet or brushed

However, regular vet visits are the best way to identify joint concerns in your dog or cat. Your vet can help ensure that your pet isn’t already struggling or at risk for future issues. “All dogs and cats should have annual examinations by their veterinarian and as they reach their golden years, we recommend bi-annual exams,” says Dr. Olechnowicz. The veterinarian may detect changes on a physical exam that identify signs of joint disease even if a pet has subtle or no signs at home.”

*Always partner with your vet if you start seeing any of the signs above. When you notice something more severe, such as limping, work to get your pet into a clinic right away so your vet can determine if additional treatment might be needed.

How to address joint issues in your pet

The good news is that in partnership with your vet, you can help your dog or cat maintain their quality of life. Depending on the type and severity of joint-related issue, your approach might include any of the following tactics.

  • If your dog or cat is experiencing chronic joint pain, your vet might recommend medication. NEVER give your dog or cat over-the-counter pain medications formulated for humans. These human forms of medicine can be highly toxic to pet.
  • Physical therapy, laser therapy, hydrotherapy and acupuncture may also be recommended.

  • Hardwood, tile and laminate floors are slippery and can be difficult for your pet to walk on, putting more strain on their joints. Adding rugs with nonskid backing can help your pet keep their footing inside the house. You can also use baby gates to restrict access to areas that have slippery surfaces. 
  • Avoid exposing your dog or cat to wide temperature swings. Cold temperatures can be more challenging for an arthritic pet to tolerate. Keep your furry family members warm and dry with appropriate indoor and outdoor apparel.
  • Raised food and water dishes can make it easier for your pet to eat and drink without adding strain to their joints. 
  • Provide comfortable bedding. Giving your pet a soft place to sleep and relax is also helpful. There are even beds designed to provide orthopedic support or memory foam beds that help cushion your pet. 
  • Use ramps. Providing a ramp for your pet to get into a car, onto furniture or up a short flight of steps may allow your pet to still have the independence to move around while making navigating their environment less difficult. 

Joint health food at Petco

As a pet parent, there are numerous ways to help contribute to your pet’s joint health. But of all the things you can do, helping your pet stay at a healthy weight is one of the most significant. If you are concerned that your pet’s weight might be leading to joint issues, learn more about how you can manage their weight.