Osteoarthritis in Dogs & Cats

Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

As dogs get older, many owners know that they are bound to suffer from a few aches and pains, and become less active and mobile, or generally lose their ‘spark’. But it’s not always old age that is the culprit. It could be osteoarthritis.

Suffering from osteoarthritis often leads to pain and decreased flexibility, which makes walking, running and generally getting around painful and more difficult and awkward than usual.

What is Canine Osteoarthritis?

Canine Osteoarthritis is a chronic, degenerative joint disease that causes pain and swelling in the soft tissues and bones of a dog's joints. The stifle (knee), elbow and hips are the most commonly affected joints, although osteoarthritis could affect any joint in your dog’s body. Osteoarthritis can affect any dog - cross-breed, pedigree, big or small – although it’s more common in older dogs and in the larger dog breeds. The early signs can be hard to spot, because dogs tend not to show pain. Instead, they express pain through subtle changes in their behaviour, such as becoming more withdrawn or less playful. If you see changes in your dog’s demeanour or mobility then do arrange an appointment with us for a thorough check up to check for symptoms of osteoarthritis. This can allow for any appropriate investigation if required, such as x-rays, or advanced CT imaging to be arranged, as well as starting an appropriate therapy for your pet.

Some of the signs to look out for are:

  • Changes in demeanour
  • Sleeping a lot
  • Lethargy
  • Stiffness especially after rest
  • Reluctance to move
  • Limping
  • Abnormal vocalisation
  • Reluctance to jump up
  • Aggressive or defensive when touched
  • Difficulty bending down to eat or drink
  • Poor mobility on slippy surfaces
  • Difficulty in lying down and getting up


  • If you think your dog may have osteoarthritis — or if the condition has already been diagnosed we will advise about the range of treatment options that are available.
  • There is now a wide range of anti-inflammatory/pain killer medications available so we will advise you on the best medication for your pet.
  • High quality animal specific nutraceutical joint supplements are available as a daily food supplement
  • Rehabilitation/Physiotherapy/Hydrotherapy as adjunctive support therapies
  • Weight control clinics and dietary advice to keep weight down
  • Arthroscopy /Orthopaedic Surgery 
  • Autologous Platelet Therapy
  • Stem Cells Therapy
  • Referral to further specialist centres if required

Weight control is very important:

It’s no surprise that, just as in people, carrying excess weight aggravates joint problems. If a joint is not working efficiently, carrying that excess weight around causes stress on joints, additional pain and further damage. So it’s very important that your dog maintains his or her ideal advised weight, particularly if osteoarthritis has been diagnosed. Start from puppyhood, don't over-feed young dogs and avoid over-supplementation in their diets. Feeding your dog smaller portions of a well-balanced less fattening food, as well as cutting out on excess calorific treats is the best way to control dietary intake and bodyweight. Exercise is also important for dogs with osteoarthritis. As well as aiding weight control, regular, gentle exercise helps to maintain mobility. Joints that do not have that regular movement may stiffen up further and the dog will then become less active and then gain more weight, so it is a viscous circle.   

Our Nurses run weight clinics, these clinics offer friendly practical advice on diets appropriate and tailored for your dog and give good professional advice on a safe weight control diet regime. 

What about cats?

It is becoming increasingly recognised that cats too can suffer from osteoarthritis. The signs that cats exhibit can be much the same as dogs they become withdrawn, grumpy and less agile. Treatments and therapy again centre on pain relief with consideration given to weight control and the use of joint supplements as required too.