As animals age, their joints can develop old-age changes, just as in humans. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease involving loss of the joint cartilage (which acts as a shock absorber and bone protectant in healthy joints) and abnormal bone growth, causing stiffness and pain when moving. Osteoarthritis most commonly affects the hips, knees, elbows and shoulders in domestic animals.

Osteoarthritis is not a disease that can be cured. However it’s symptoms can be controlled to ease your pet’s discomfort.

Maintain an appropriate weight for your pet:

If an animal is overweight, its joints are forced to support more weight than is necessary. Strict weight management is a simple way of reducing stress on joints. Ideally your pet should have an obvious waist, and while the ribs should not be visible, they should be easily felt while running your hands along the chest.

Keep your pet warm:

Animals are noticeably stiffer during cold weather. Providing your pet with warm and padded bedding can help reduce stiffness, especially in the mornings.

Regular low impact exercise:

Exercise is important to keep weight off, but large amounts of high impact exercise can cause pain for an arthritic animal. Exercising on hard, unyielding surfaces can jolt an animal’s joints. Gentle leash walks on grassed or other cushioned surfaces, is easier on the joints. Swimming (in warmer weather) provides good quality, low-impact exercise. The length of exercise that an arthritic animal finds comfortable is different for each animal – you will need to judge this for your pet. It is also important that after exercise your pet cools down slowly. Just as for humans cooling down too quickly can cause stiffness.


Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Rimadyl or Metacam provide relief from osteoarthritis-associated pain and data suggests that their use can also slow further disease progression. These drugs provide similar effects to aspirin in humans, and unfortunately can have similar side-effects. These drugs can cause stomach ulcers and damage the kidneys. It is therefore very important that the label instructions are followed carefully. These drugs need to be given with food, and stopped immediately if vomiting, diarrhoea or excessive thirst or urination develops. If your pet is being treated with these drugs, we recommend 6month to yearly blood (to measure urea and creatinine enzyme levels) and urine (to measure the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine) tests to ensure the kidneys are continuing to function normally. Courses of injectable drugs such as Cartrophen are also available. These are initially given weekly over a period of one month, the monthly or as required. It is especially important that human drugs are NEVER administered to animals unless they are given on a veterinarian’s advice. Dosage and formulations of human drugs are usually different to those for animals, and therefore can be toxic or even fatal to your pet.


Natural products such as green-lipped mussel extract, deer velvet and shark cartilage appear to help reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis in some animals. While these products are not effective in all animals it is often worthwhile trying such treatment as long as any response is measured objectively e.g. willingness and duration of play, ease in getting up and down steps.

If you would like to trial any of the pain relief medications, please speak to one of our staff members about which would be best for your pet. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s condition, please don’t hesitate to contact us.