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What you Need to Know About Pet Joint Care Part One

arthritis cat health dog health


Like every complex machine, the body wears down over time. In humans, this leads to phantom pains, pill-popping, and a whole lot of complaining. The Fidos and Fluffies of the world, however, often have to suffer in silence. So, as pet parents, it’s up to us to spot the signs of age-related illnesses. The prevalence of one of these age-related diseases, arthritis, rose by 312% percent between 2012 and 2015. To help combat this rising tide of joint pain and misery, we’ve put together this dog and cat guardian’s guide to animal joint care — and, more specifically, arthritis. Of course, one of the best ways to prevent arthritis is to eat omega-3 fatty acids. These are available in supplements and foods. We recommend EcoTreats, wild-caught sockeye salmon filet bits. They aren’t a substitute for supplements, but are one more healthful source of an important dietary ingredient to keep cats and their joints healthy.

What Exactly Is Arthritis?

Our fur babies, much like us, move via a carefully-balanced system of tendons and joints. When they’re born, the ends of their bones are smoother than marble. Over time, whether through disease, aging, or injury, they become marred by imperfections. As months turn to years, those bumps, nicks, and ridges alter the movement of their bones. Instead of gliding smoothly over one another, like they did when Rufus was a puppy, those joints start to grate and grind. To lessen the resulting friction, our pets’ bodies will initiate an inflammatory response. This reaction ultimately leads to the stiffness and swelling so familiar to arthritis patients.

The Three Types of Animal Arthritis

Now that we know our enemy, we can try to understand its tactics. While most of us are well-acquainted with osteoarthritis (aka degenerative joint disease), a lot of us would be hard-pressed to name another kind. There are actually three types of arthritis common to cats and dogs:

Septic Arthritis: While almost unheard of in cats, this type of arthritis is common in male dogs between four and seven years old. Kickstarted by a bacterial or fungal infection of the joint, this type of arthritis is often seen in pets suffering from traumatic joint injuries or compromised immune systems. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat this disorder, but in extreme cases, joints may have to be surgically cleaned. As it results from an external pathogen, this type of arthritis can be cured.

Immune-mediated Polyarthritis: This type of arthritis results when the immune system attacks the body. Typical symptoms include lethargy, heated joints, and intermittent lameness. Divided into erosive and non-erosive types, this disorder can be treated with immunosuppressants, antibiotics, and anti-seizure drugs. Though the prognosis is generally good, some dog breeds, such as Shar -Peis and Akitas, are prone to particularly debilitating varieties of immune-mediated polyarthritis.

Osteoarthritis: Characterized by progressive, permanent deterioration of joint cartilage, this is the most common type of arthritis. Though usually just a result of old age, the onset of osteoarthritis can be sped up by trauma or birth defects. Symptoms of the disease vary and can include stiffness and a reduced activity level. It can’t be cured, but this disease can be managed through a vet-approved mixture of surgery, therapy, and exercise.

Arthritis and Joint Pain Risk Factors

While all pets age, some of them manage to escape the more devastating effects of arthritis Whether or not they do so often come down to the following five factors:

Age: The older Mr. Whiskers gets, the more likely he is to develop a degenerative joint disease. While osteoarthritis isn’t unheard of in younger animals, it's definitely more common in the elderly. Don’t let your fur baby’s youth stop you from having your dog or cat’s stiffness checked out, however. It’s much easier to treat arthritis before it becomes debilitating.

Size: Generally, the larger the animal, the more likely they will develop early arthritis. A healthy-sized German Shepherd is much more prone to the disease than a Yorkie. Please note that this factor is species-specific. While a 15-pound cat may be healthy, he would have a much higher likelihood of developing arthritis than a normal-sized Beagle. As there is more animal to move, the joints are prone to early-onset exhaustion and deformation.

Weight: Even if he never mentioned it, Garfield likely suffered some killer arthritis. While we might find our cat’s love handles cute, those extra pounds put a lot of strain on their tendons and joints.  Luckily, unlike other factors on this list, this one can be mitigated through diet and exercise.

Genetics: Some dog breeds, such as toy breeds and breeds with a long history of hip dysplasia, are particularly prone to bone and joint issues. While we can’t change a dog’s genes, we can ensure that we don’t compound the issue by overfeeding them. If you have a dog or cat with a family history of joint and bone problems, it's important to get them checked early on.

Activity Level: Pets in pain are much more likely to laze about. This lack of activity often serves to stiffen joints and lessen muscle mass. Ensuring our pets get adequate exercise can both prevent early-onset arthritis and ultimately slow its progress.

Injuries: Joints affected by trauma early in life are much more prone to issues later on. When our pets are injured, we should continue to check up on the site of the injury throughout their life. When caught early on, it's relatively easy to treat trauma-related arthritis.

What Are the Signs of Arthritis?

Now that we know what puts Rover and Whiskers at risk, we need to learn what to keep an eye out for. Since animals rarely verbalize their pain, pet guardians need to be observant and proactive. When we notice more than one of the following symptoms, it’s time to take our fur baby to the vet:




An aversion to being handled








Swollen joints



Failing to use the litter box


Decreased activity



Weight gain



Excessive licking



Uncharacteristic hesitance



Pet guardians like us hate the idea of our pets being in pain. But, many of us feel like there’s no other option when it comes to animal arthritis. Dr. Patty Khuly, veterinarian and columnist disagrees, stating, “I think the most commonly under-treated disease in canine and feline medicine has got to be osteoarthritis (arthritis for short).”  In part two of this article, we’ll explore her hypothesis in more depth. We’ll also take a look at how modern veterinarians diagnose and treat arthritis.

Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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