Properly dealing with pets’ osteoarthritis involves keeping a healthy weight

Q: My vet has diagnosed Betsy, our Golden Retriever, with elbow arthritis. She’s only 7 years old, and I’d like to know more so I can help her in the future. P.L., Farragut

A: Osteoarthritis is a chronic, degenerative disease of the joints. It is a painful, progressive condition that occurs in many species, including dogs and cats. There are many factors that contribute to arthritis, including previous trauma and/or disease in a particular joint, age, breed, obesity and genetics. One or more of these factors can contribute to the wearing down and loss of cartilage at the ends of the bones. This causes inflammation in and around the joint, which lowers the quality and amount of synovial fluid [“joint fluid”]. Without adequate, high-quality synovial fluid, the joint cannot stay well-lubricated, and the cartilage continues to deteriorate.

In dogs, the most common joints affected are the hips, knees, elbows and spine. Affected dogs typically start with minimal, intermittent discomfort, but symptoms worsen with time and age.

In the early stages, pets may be slower to get up in the morning, seem to “warm out of it” and then do well for the rest of the day. As the disease progresses, clinical signs may include stiffness, limping, difficulty getting up or down stairs and reluctance to go on long walks. Some pets will resist petting near affected joints due to pain and inflammation.

To help Betsy in the future, it is important that she maintain a healthy weight. Keeping her thin will keep her joints from carrying those extra pounds, potentially causing more damage. Nutrition should also be addressed; a high-quality, low-fat diet is recommended. Exercise is also important for these patients, with short walks or swimming being preferred.

Oral medications include anti-inflammatories and chondroprotectants to help alleviate the pain. Other therapies that may be helpful include physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractics and therapeutic laser.

For some pets, joint replacement surgery may be an option. Hopefully, you will be able to find a regimen that will keep Betsy comfortable.

If you suspect your pet may suffer from osteoarthritis, see your veterinarian. He/she will examine your pet, perform x-rays and be able to make the appropriate recommendations.

If you have questions or concerns about your pet, you may e-mail Dr. Myers at