There's one major factor in determining if your cat or dog is predisposed.

By Caroline Biggs
March 27, 2020
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If you've ever had a pet that suffered from osteoarthritis, then you know how distressing it can be. "Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of arthritis caused by inflammation and damage to joint tissue that can affect both dogs and cats," says Lilian Wong, DVM at Banfield Pet Hospital. "Factors such as genetics, injury, joint abnormalities, and age can cause OA, but the most common predictor of this painful and degenerative disease is obesity."

According to Banfield Pet Hospital's 2019 State of Pet Health Report, about six percent of dogs and one percent of cats are affected by OA—a 66 percent increase in dogs and 150 percent increase in cats over the past 10 years. "Just as concerning is the disease's link to obesity," Wong says, who adds that 52 percent of dogs and 41 percent of cats with osteoarthritis are overweight or obese. "Discomfort from OA can keep pets from being active, which can lead to weight gain, which can then worsen the joint condition." And while Wong says there is no one-size-fits-all plan for treating OA, she does say that keeping your pet at a healthy weight is a critical part of managing OA. "The earlier OA is diagnosed, the sooner your veterinarian can recommend a management and treatment plan," she says. "Advanced identification, before your pet has noticeably reduced mobility, can allow for less invasive treatment options, such as starting the pet on a mobility diet or nutritional supplements."

Read ahead for a few ways Wong says you can keep your pet at a healthy weight, and help prevent or manage osteoarthritis.

Give Your Pets More Exercise

Increasing the amount of exercise your pet gets every day won't just help keep the extra pounds off, it'll help reduce their risk of developing osteoarthritis in the first place. "Exercise or some level of activity is helpful in not only burning calories, but also building and maintaining muscle mass, which can help arthritic joints," she says.

Partner with Your Veterinarian to Find the Right Diet for Your Pet

Extra weight can put your dog or cat on a faster path to chronic pain and behavioral changes, which is why Wong suggests talking to your vet as soon as possible about your pet's diet. "The best nutritional option for your pet is to feed a consistent, balanced, and veterinarian-approved diet that meets their individual nutritional requirements and is appropriate for their life stage," she says.

Measure Food Portions and Limit Treats

We love rewarding our pets with food and treats as much as the next person, but Wong says too much might worsen their arthritis. "Always measure out exact food portions for your pet and limit treats to 10 percent or less of your pet's daily intake," she says. "Your veterinarian can help you determine the appropriate amount and type(s) of food and treats for your pet throughout every stage of life."

Know the Distinct Symptoms of Feline Osteoarthritis

Wong says that not all signs of pet arthritis look the same. "Cats instinctively hide their pain, so detecting signs of osteoarthritis can be more challenging than with dogs," she says. "Signs of OA pain in cats can include: going to the bathroom in inappropriate places such as right outside of the litter box; decline in interaction with humans and other pets; and poor hair coat including dandruff, mats or scruff, as cats experiencing pain may not be able to reach all parts of their body to groom completely."

Look for Symptoms of Canine Osteoarthritis

"Signs of OA in dogs can include reluctance or inability to go up or down steps, sitting with a back leg loosely to the side, decreased or lost interest in play, reluctance to being petted or touched, stiffness or limping," Wong says. "Often pet owners think their pets are slowing down as they age, but it might be due to pain. Discuss any changes you notice in your pet with your veterinarian as they can determine if underlying conditions such as OA are the root cause."

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