Can You Prevent Arthritis in Dogs and Cats?

Can You Prevent Arthritis in Dogs and Cats?

Arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis, can affect dogs and cats of all ages and sizes. Just as in humans, arthritis is a painful condition that worsens over time. Dogs and cats suffering from arthritis have a reduced quality of life, and studies have shown that untreated arthritis can even result in a shortened lifespan.[1]

There is no cure for arthritis in dogs, cats, or humans. Fortunately, pet parents can take proactive steps to help prevent or delay the development of osteoarthritis in dogs and cats. 

This article will review how dogs and cats get arthritis, whether or not you can prevent arthritis in dogs and cats, and other tips and advice for preventing dog and cat arthritis. 

How Do Dogs and Cats Get Arthritis?

Arthritis is a complex disease characterized by the progressive deterioration of a joint. While all parts of the joint can be affected, osteoarthritis typically occurs when the smooth cartilage becomes lost or damaged, leading to friction in the joint. This results in reduced mobility, instability, and joint pain. 

In humans, arthritis is considered a disease caused by persistent wear and tear. While wear and tear is also a cause of arthritis in dogs and cats, genetics plays a much more significant role. A strong relationship exists between certain growth-related genes and joint disease.[2] Additionally, some breeds, like Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds, are more likely to develop arthritis than others. 

Developmental issues, such as hip or elbow dysplasia, are another common cause of arthritis in dogs. Research has shown that roughly 25 percent of dogs older than 1 year of age will already be plagued by arthritis.[2] 

In both dogs and cats, musculoskeletal disorders that arise later in life, like luxating patellas and cranial cruciate ligament disease, are common culprits in the onset of osteoarthritis. Other common ways that dogs and cats get arthritis include orthopedic trauma, such as a hit-by-car incident, obesity, overuse, old age, and inappropriate diets.

Can You Prevent Arthritis in Dogs and Cats?

Even a dog or cat with a genetic risk of arthritis is not doomed to a life of pain and suffering if their owners intervene early. While it’s not possible to prevent arthritis entirely, dog and cat owners can take action against arthritis with preventative care using the following tactics:

Avoid Obesity

Obesity is an increasingly common cause of arthritis in dogs and cats. It is also arguably the easiest osteoarthritis risk factor to avoid. Carrying around excess body weight strains joints, making them vulnerable to injury and dysfunction. In overweight dogs and cats that already have joint disease or signs of arthritis, weight loss can help delay the progression of the disease. 

Maintain Muscle Mass

Muscles don’t just move joints; they protect them. Dogs and cats with solid muscles can better absorb the forces that impact their joints and protect them from the effects of daily use, like jumping off the couch, chasing squirrels in the backyard, or going up and down the stairs. In dogs and cats without adequate musculature, joints compensate to absorb the impact from movement but also fulfill the muscle’s job, leading to more jarring forces and damage inside the joint.

Provide Regular Low Impact Exercise

Daily activity burns calories to prevent obesity and helps dogs and cats build muscle. Additionally, it helps maintain joints’ normal range of motion to fend off joint stiffness. Swimming is the best form of exercise for pets and people, as it builds muscle and burns calories without wear and tear on the joints. Regular leash walks also provide excellent low-impact, controlled exercise for pets. 

Limit high-impact and repetitive exercise. Exercises like fetch, in which a dog quickly stops, jumps repeatedly, and turns abruptly, can be hard on a pet’s joints. Using a laser pointer for a cat presents a similar scenario. If these exercises are a favorite of your pet, they do not have to be given up completely. Keep sessions to an appropriate limit, and other types of exercise, like swimming or leash walks, should be prioritized. High-impact and intense exercise should always be avoided in young animals whose joints are still developing.

Address Issues Promptly

The sooner a joint abnormality is corrected, the less lasting damage will be done to the joint. Once cartilage is lost or worn down, it cannot be repaired or replaced. Pet owners should consider surgical correction as soon as a structural disorder is diagnosed. If a puppy or kitten isn’t as playful as expected or is reluctant to go on walks, use the stairs, etc., they should be evaluated and potentially treated for a developmental joint abnormality, like hip or elbow dysplasia, as soon as possible. 

Feed an Appropriate Diet

Feeding dogs or cats a complete and balanced diet appropriate for their lifestyle can help prevent obesity and joint instability. It is critical that puppies and kittens eat a diet specifically formulated to ensure they receive the correct proportions of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to ensure optimal joint development. 

Some developmental issues like hip dysplasia can be the result of feeding an improper diet during growth stages. Adult pets should eat a diet formulated for adults unless directed by a veterinarian. Correctly measuring and portioning meals is critical to ensure pets aren’t overeating.

Add in Dietary Supplements

Many joint health supplements are safe and effective for dogs and cats and can be started as soon as a pet reaches adulthood as a preventative measure against osteoarthritis. The best dietary supplement for preventing arthritis is a high-quality fish oil supplement, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are natural anti-inflammatory agents and powerful antioxidants. These compounds reduce joint inflammation to help prevent or delay arthritic changes. Another excellent supplement is glucosamine plus chondroitin and MSM, commonly combined into a single chew. These compounds may protect cartilage and reduce inflammation. 

Find a Reputable Breeder

For owners who wish to buy a pet rather than adopt, finding a reputable breeder is the only way to help limit the genetic risks of arthritis in dogs and cats. Responsible breeders will have their dogs or cats genetically tested for specific breed-related genetic risk factors, some of which can be related to the development of osteoarthritis or conformational disorders. 

Breeders of certain dogs, like Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds, should have their dogs screened by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hip and/or elbow dysplasia. While breeders taking these critical steps may charge more for their puppies and kittens, the extra money is worth the assurance that the animal will grow and develop properly. This saves pet owners money in the long run and prevents unnecessary pain and suffering in the animal itself. 

Dog and Cat Arthritis Prevention: Other Tips and Advice

In addition to taking proactive steps to prevent arthritis in dogs and cats, pet owners should never underestimate the value of keeping their pets in overall good health and free of preventable diseases. This helps reduce total body inflammation, which could upregulate joint inflammation and exacerbate arthritic changes. 

One of the best and easiest ways to ensure your pet remains happy, healthy and disease-free is to keep up with annual veterinary exams. Veterinarians can determine whether a pet is at their ideal body condition if they have any less obvious signs of early osteoarthritis, like asymmetrical musculature, and help prevent infectious diseases, like parasites and viruses. 

Osteoarthritis is a slow and progressive disease. It’s never too early to begin intervention, even if your dog or cat isn’t showing signs of arthritis yet. For dogs and cats already diagnosed with osteoarthritis, pet owners can take comfort in knowing that arthritis is a manageable disease. In addition to taking steps to delay the progression of the disease, many treatment options are available to keep pets happy and pain-free. 


  1. Katharine L. Anderson, Dan G. O’Neill, David C. Brodbelt, David B. Church, Richard L. Meeson, David Sargan, Jennifer F. Summers, Helen Zulch, and Lisa M. Collins, (2018) “Prevalence, duration and risk factors for appendicular osteoarthritis in a UK dog population under primary veterinary care”
  2. Katharine L. Anderson, Helen Zulch, Dan G. O’Neill, Richard L. Meeson, and Lisa M. Collins, (2020) “Risk Factors for Canine Osteoarthritis and Its Predisposing Arthropathies: A Systematic Review”

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