Helping Your Pet Age Gracefully: Painful Joints

Old dogAs we all know, growing older comes with some challenges. That’s true for pets, too. In the second of our four-part series on aging and pets, we discuss a common, age-related health issue – arthritis. Below, we share how to identify if your pet may be suffering from this degenerative disease and ways you and your veterinarian can work together to ease your pet’s painful joints.

What is arthritis?

Over time, the cartilage that forms a cushion between the bones (think: elbows, knees and hips) naturally deteriorates and becomes less flexible. When bone rubs against bone, it hurts and causes inflammation at the site.


If you see that your pet has difficulty rising, less stamina, stiffness, decreased mobility, is limping, or is reluctant to climb stairs, jump or play, you should visit your family veterinarian. An exam and X-rays may be needed to determine if your pet is suffering from arthritis.

If your dog or cat is diagnosed with arthritis, here are some ways you can help soothe their pain:


Overweight and obese pets are much more likely to be affected by arthritis. The more a pet weighs, the more pressure is being put on his joints. So, one of the first steps in addressing arthritis is to make sure your pet is at a healthy weight. Your family veterinarian can accurately assess your pet’s body condition and recommend a diet that will help your dog or cat lose weight, if needed.

Additionally, your veterinarian may suggest a food specifically developed to help support joint health. These foods are typically formulated with supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and essential fatty acids – all of which help human joints as well.

Pain Relievers

A prescription pain reliever, from a family veterinarian, is often recommended, so pets who feel pain when they move get relief, return to regular activity and keep their muscles strong. There are several different pain relievers for pets, and many are also anti-inflammatory. Ask your veterinarian if a prescription pain reliever would benefit your dog or cat.


Pets with arthritis do better if they can maintain their muscle mass, which helps stabilize their weakened joints. So don’t stop exercising your pet! Instead, you may need to switch to a lower impact exercise, like from running to swimming or walking. If even low-impact activity is too much (let your pet decide how much exercise is enough), physical therapy can help maintain your cat or dog’s muscle mass.

Home Care

You can make modifications around your home to help your senior pet feel comfortable and further his mobility up stairs and onto higher surfaces when he can no longer jump. Here are some ideas:

  • Provide a padded bed in a warm, draft-free spot.
  • Make slippery surfaces like wood or linoleum floors safer with non-skid runners, available at most home improvement and hardware stores.
  • If your cat’s litter box has high sides, cut a cat-sized opening in one side to let him step in and out easily, leaving one to two inches at the bottom to keep litter from spilling.
  • Use ramps to help your pet reach high spots like your bed or the couch.
  • Supervise your pet when using the stairs or help him by using a sling around his belly (you hold the ends in your hands) to support his body weight as he walks.
  • Groom your pet regularly, so he’s not frustrated by an inability to reach his entire body.
  • If your pet is used to spending time alone in the yard, be sure you have a clear view to keep an eye on him. Pets with arthritis are vulnerable to attacks from other animals, they can fall and injure themselves easily, and they can become very stiff in cold or damp weather. Stay by the window and watch them when they’re outside; even better, sit outside with them.

Stay tuned for the next two articles in our series “Helping Your Pet Age Gracefully” to learn about two additional common, age-related ailments in pets – vision loss and toothaches.