Pet Health

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense: Preventing Arthritis BEFORE It Starts

Written by Dr. Adam Abou-Youssef Nov 2 • 4 minute read

Journey is a great example of the typical arthritic pet that walks through our doors at Essington Road: a nine year old mixed breed dog who is ‘slowing down’ – she’s less interested in sitting on the couch, seems overworked by a few minutes of fetch, and occasionally has a limp for a minute after getting up. Overall she’s doing well, but her age is starting to show.

She is also the textbook example of arthritis in pets, where symptoms start off mild and only become severe (obvious limping, difficulty standing up or sitting down, unwilling to jump) years into the disease.

Arthritis affects 60 percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats over their lifetimes. The silver lining that often goes unacknowledged is that there is a lot pet parents can do to prevent, or at least minimize, this risk for their dogs and cats.



Selecting a low-risk pet

The first step in preventing arthritis is to avoid genetic precursors from the get-go. In general, this means avoiding body shapes with shortened, twisted limbs and breeds (or lines within a breed) predisposed to hip and elbow dysplasia.

Obviously, this is much easier when finding a puppy from a breeder, but if you are adopting and are serious about minimizing arthritic issues down the line, look for pets with:

  • Correct conformation (see images for reference)
  • Easy, loping stride
  • Healthy body condition / weight

Normal (top left) and abnormal (remainder) conformation of front legs.

Normal (leftmost) and abnormal (remainder) conformation of rear legs.

If you are working with a breeder, read up on your intended breed and the specific risks their genes carry. Many breeds have screening or scoring available for these conditions; check that your breeder is completing these tests for all sires and dams, and review their results. Ask about previous joint issues in their breeding line(s) and what steps have been taken to avoid repeating them.



Monitoring Weight

From early puppyhood through old age, a healthy weight will prevent a lot of issues. First, we need to know what ‘healthy’ looks like. Healthy pets should have an hourglass shape (when viewed from above), a tucked-up waist (when viewed from the side), and ribs that can be felt with gentle pressure (no digging!).

Not sure where you pet falls? Below are charts for dogs and cats to help you assess.

Click above for a full dog or cat body condition scoring chart to help you assess your pet's health 

If your pet is overweight, never fear – effective weight loss is absolutely possible with the right pet food and portions. Contact us to discuss how best to approach a realistic weight loss plan for your furry family members! We can calculate exact calorie needs and how those translate into meals and treats day-to-day.



Treating infections and injuries

Finally, providing early, appropriate intervention for both infections and injuries will have a massive effect on your pet’s long term comfort. Infections like Lyme disease or bite wounds and injuries like torn ligaments and sprained joints can be devastating.

Think of these problems like having a stick stuck in the chain of your bicycle. Without the stick, your bike may suffer damage over time, but with the stick, damage will happen more quickly and on a greater scale.

Prevent infections and injuries where possible:

  • Tick preventatives should be used year round to minimize the risk of Lyme and other similar diseases
  • Provide pet steps for small dogs (and maybe even cats) who get on and off of beds, couches, and other higher perches
  • Train dogs to walk with a loose leash, instead of pulling on their collar or harness, which can hurt their spine and shoulders

When injury or infection happens despite your best efforts, pursue treatment ASAP. Most of the time, delaying intervention only worsens outcomes. Often if we catch an issue early on, simple anti-inflammatory medications and rest can be enough to resolve the issue.



Remember that arthritis is a part of life for our pets as much as us. We can reduce the risk and slow the progression, but we can't completely prevent it. When it does eventually rear it's head, there is also a lot we can do to help our pets stay comfortable.

 If you're worried your pet may have arthritis or be at risk of developing it, let us know. Our annual checkups are geared towards exactly this kind of risk prevention and we can help you create a care plan as unique as your own pet.

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