Osteoarthritis is a very common problem in our pets. It has been estimated that around 30-50% of dogs and cats will be affected by osteoarthritis at some point in their lives. Arthritis, or ‘joint inflammation’, causes long term degeneration of joints and involves the cartilage, bone under the cartilage, joint capsule and fluid in the joint (synovial fluid).

In humans, arthritis is usually due to ‘wear and tear’ of joints. In dogs, osteoarthritis usually has a specific underlying cause and is therefore often seen earlier in life. Underlying causes can include elbow dysplasia or hip dysplasia, ligament rupture and traumatic injuries. Cats are more commonly affected by ‘wear and tear’ and tend to be affected later in life. 

What are the signs of osteoarthritis?

Dogs and cats are very good at hiding signs of chronic discomfort, and the flags for arthritis can be very subtle.

  • Stiffness and lameness, particularly after a period of rest which ‘warms out’ after a few minutes
  • Difficulty rising from rest
  • Reluctance to climb, jump or exercise
  • Slow on walks
  • Reduced activity levels
  • Altered behaviour (including aggression)

Are all animals with osteoarthritis in pain and lame?

Once osteoarthritis has started in a joint it cannot be cured and will affect an animal for the rest of his or her life. However, the osteoarthritis can be broadly divided into two forms; 


(1) chronic active osteoarthritis which causes pain and lameness; and,

(2) chronic silent osteoarthritis which may cause stiffness but not pain or lameness. 


It is possible for a dog or cat to have the silent form of osteoarthritis for long periods with occasional bouts of the active form which may develop, for example, due to over-exercising and spraining the osteoarthritic joint.


How is osteoarthritis diagnosed?

Joints affected with osteoarthritis are often thickened with a restricted range of movement and muscles on the affected limb are often wasted or reduced in size. Detecting evidence of pain on manipulation of arthritic joints is an important feature that helps distinguish the active and silent forms of the disease. X-rays are the most common method of diagnosing osteoarthritis and ruling out other possible causes of joint pain and lameness. Radiographic features typically include the formation of abnormal bone around the joint and excessive fluid in the joint. 

Sometimes to get a better idea of the underlying issue, we may need to refer your pet for more advanced imaging, such as MRI scanning, CT scan, or arthroscopy (inspection of the inside of joints with a camera). 


How is osteoarthritis treated?

Since osteoarthritis cannot be easily cured (as is the case in people too), the aim of treatment is to convert chronic active osteoarthritis into chronic silent osteoarthritis. There is no single approach that works in every case, and most dogs and cats need a multi-modal approach. 

If you believe your pet is suffering from osteoarthritis please contact the clinic on (02) 6046 9846 to book an appointment.