Arthritis affects approximately one in three dogs during their lifetime and, according to various studies, as many as 60 to 90%  of cats. But, despite its common presence, arthritis is not a natural or healthy part of aging—it’s a painful and degenerative condition that deserves veterinary attention and care.

Because pets naturally hide pain and weakness, recognizing arthritic changes in your dog or cat can be challenging. To help you stay one step ahead of your pet’s aches and pains, our Guam Pet Hospital team has compiled the top five most common pet arthritis warning signs.

#1: Your pet is slowing down

Visible arthritis signs typically correspond with age. As pets—and people—get older, they experience increased joint stiffness or soreness. However, because pets age more rapidly than humans and experience many developmental problems (e.g., hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patellas), arthritis may begin at a much younger age. 

Whether your pet is old or young, sudden changes in activity level and mobility suggest pain and discomfort that can manifest as behavioral changes, including:

  • Sleeping more often, or for longer periods
  • Loss of interest in playing, or quickly ending the game
  • Refusing to exercise
  • Fatigue during physical activity
  • Slower movements (e.g., walking instead of trotting or running)

#2: Your pet is reluctant to jump up or use stairs

Arthritic pets learn to recognize the movements that trigger their pain—and then attempt to avoid these motions by altering their daily routine or behavior. They frequently first avoid high-impact movements (i.e., those that require a large shift in body weight from front to back, or vice versa), including jumping up and down from furniture or traveling up and down stairs.

To escape their discomfort, your pet may refuse to perform the motion altogether or—most commonly—show subtle reluctance, which can be seen as:

  • Hesitation — Pets may pause before jumping or using stairs, and then take small stutter-steps, or seem to prepare themselves before attempting the movement.
  • Adaptation — Pets may change how they move (e.g., traveling diagonally along the stairs, rushing, pausing on a staircase to rest), or look for an alternative jumping route (e.g., jumping on a chair before jumping to the table, instead of one large jump).
  • Avoidance — Pets may appear to take “the long way around” to avoid slippery surfaces or tall steps, stop visiting certain areas of your home, or be unwilling to walk their familiar neighborhood route or trail.

Pets with arthritis often begin to lose muscle strength, which makes them more likely to slip, struggle, or fall. Because these pets are weak, they’re at a greater risk for serious injury.  If you notice changes in your pet’s mobility or loss of coordination, schedule an appointment at Guam Pet Hospital.

#3: Your pet seems grouchy or anxious

Pain can make anyone irritable—including pets. Personality changes are common expressions of discomfort, and may include:

  • Aggression — Painful pets may feel the need to protect themselves—making them more likely to growl, hiss, or display aggression to make the “threat” go away—but you must remember that these pets are acting out of pain and fear, and not anger.
  • Hypersensitivity — Pain can make pets overly sensitive to touch, causing them to flinch or shy away from even gentle petting. 
  • Anxiety — Sometimes painful pets can appear nervous, worried, or clingy. 

Always consider pain or a medical cause (e.g., vision loss) when your pet demonstrates a behavioral change. Do not punish or reprimand your pet, which can damage the pet-pet owner bond. 

#4: Your pet is gaining weight

Arthritic pets are less active, but often consume the same amount of calories as when they were pain-free. This can lead to harmful weight gain, which worsens arthritic pressure and creates a vicious cycle of pain and inactivity. 

If you cannot feel your pet’s ribs without applying pressure, or cannot see a slight indentation or “waist” behind their rib cage, your pet may be overweight. Help them slim down with a visit to Guam Pet Hospital—our team can calculate the exact number of calories your pet needs and alleviate their arthritis pain to help get them back on their paws.

#5: Your pet is stiff, hunched, or limping

Changes in your pet’s gait can be an obvious pain indication, but they often are not visible until your pet’s condition is moderate to severe. In addition to classic limping, some other physical changes in your pet’s movement and posture may include:

  • Weight shifting — When standing, pets may off-load their weight to a less painful position by leaning to one side (e.g., left, right, forward, or back). If both joints on either side of the body are painful, pets may shift their weight back and forth, as if they are unable to stand still.
  • Shuffling gait — Arthritic pets may take shorter steps to avoid fully bending or extending their limbs.
  • Rounded back — Dogs and cats may stand with their hind feet tucked under the body, creating an arched or rounded spine. However, this also may indicate abdominal pain, so always have a veterinarian evaluate your pet if they have an abnormal posture.

If you recognize any of these warning signs in your pet, you need to take action. Arthritis is a debilitating but manageable condition, with many treatment options, which mostly are economical and convenient. Don’t let your beloved pet suffer unnecessarily—contact Guam Pet Hospital to schedule an appointment.