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Arthrosis in dogs and cats: what is it and what causes it?

Painful joints when moving around: arthrosis is an unpleasant affliction. Nearly 25 percent of all dogs will develop it and that percentage is even higher for cats. We will tell you all about arthrosis, how it emerges and what it is.

What is arthrosis?

The ends of bones are lined with cartilage in order to facilitate smooth motion. When the body stops producing cartilage – which may have different causes – arthrosis emerges. It is often a very gradual process that may take a number of years; but this is different for every individual animal. As cartilage wears out, the bone loses its protection which may give rise to bone growth at the end of the bone. This growth reduces the mobility of the joint and causes pain when moving around.

How does it emerge?

Arthrosis emerges as a result of an inflammation (arthritis) in the bone. The inflammation may have different causes, such as: obesity, infection, loose fragments in the joint, a fracture, severe bruising or rheumatism. Treatment requires thorough examination to determine the exact cause. Arthrosis in dogs and cats can affect animals in all weight categories.

Arthrosis and exercise

Arthrosis is exacerbated by exercise; it causes the joint to wear. As a result of the pain, your dog or cat will become less active. The longer your pet suffers from arthrosis, the worse the pain will become. As your pet becomes less active due to the pain, its muscle mass is reduced as well. The consequence is that the rate at which the cartilage wears out, accelerates and the inflammation worsens. A vicious cycle emerges that can only be interrupted by treating the symptoms.

Senior and young animals

A common misconception is that arthrosis only affects senior animals. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Arthrosis can affect dogs and cats as young as 1 to 5 years old. Make sure to keep an eye on any developing symptoms in younger pets as well.

Recognising arthrosis in dogs and cats

You can recognise a dog or cat suffering from arthrosis by their reduced flexibility and difficulty getting up, walking or jumping. Your dog may find it increasingly difficult to jump in and out of the car, or your cat may develop similar problems getting to its favourite spot on the windowsill. Unexpected aggressive behaviour when touching a painful spot (e.g. the back) may be a sign of arthrosis as well. Since dogs and especially cats are masters at hiding pain, it is very important to pay close attention to any behavioural changes in your dog or cat. There are other symptoms that can help recognise arthrosis in your pet:

  • Reduced coat care: because motion is causing pain, cats can no longer take care of themselves as well as they used to, with an untended coat as a result; difficult to reach spots are particularly prone to tangles and accumulated dirt.
  • Licking painful spots: Dogs tend to lick painful joints which may cause bald spots, among other things.
  • Reduced activity: it seems like your dog or cat has less energy. The underlying cause of its reduced activity is the pain it experiences when moving around.
  • Reduced toilet hygiene: arthrosis may even cause housebroken pets to lose their hygienic habits. Cats may fail to make it to the litterbox in time because it is too difficult to get into and dogs may start doing their business in the house because it hurts to get up.

Diagnosing and treating arthrosis

Unfortunately, arthrosis is incurable. But the quality of life of an animal can be improved dramatically by treating symptoms and managing pain. When in doubt, always have a vet examine your dog or cat. They can take an X-ray to see what is causing the problem and how to treat the arthrosis. Read all about what to do in the case of arthrosis here.

Further reading:

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