What is Osteoarthritis?

Download a printable copy of Osteoarthritis article.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful and progressive degenerative process affecting joints. Commonly found in both dogs and cats, OA is mainly a problem seen in older pets. However, it is also a common complication of orthopedic injury in a patient of any age. It can result from developmental disease (i.e., hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, patella luxation, and OCD) or from traumatic injuries to joints (i.e., fractures or ligament injury such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture). Obesity and associated diseases can worsen OA. Since arthritis is a condition which cannot be cured, proper long term management becomes very important.

Click one of the questions below to read more:

Osteoarthritis is associated with damage to cartilage within joints.  Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in normal joints.  Its main functions are to act as a shock absorber and to reduce friction within the joint.

Joint disease or trauma can cause a cascade of joint damage:

  • Loss of certain protective molecules within joint cartilage leads to increased cartilage stiffness and dryness.
  • Hardening of the cartilage and inability to repair damaged areas leads to roughness and fragmentation.
  • Death of cartilage cells and disruption in collagen fibers leads to further cartilage breakdown.
  • Loss of cartilage exposes areas of bone surface within the joint, which may respond by forming abnormal bony plates or osteophytes (bone spurs).
  • Inflammation of the joint capsule may lead to further breakdown of healthy cartilage.
  • Lameness and pain occur in your pet, resulting in your pet’s unwillingness to move and play.
  • Lack of use leads to muscle atrophy, further loss of range of motion and weight gain. Changes in gait and uneven distribution of the weight on the limbs may result in further orthopedic dysfunction.
  • Osteoarthritis is not a curable disease, but it is manageable.
  • There is no direct correlation between OA changes seen on radiographs and your pet’s function level.
  • Increasing muscle mass and range of motion are essential factors in restoring normal function to an injured limb.
  • Daily moderate activity is best for dogs with osteoarthritis.
  • A sudden increase in the duration or intensity of exercise can worsen lameness. Proper warm-up and gradual increase of activity is very important.
  • If the animal is obese, losing weight may reduce the signs associated with osteoarthritis by one-third.

Diet and weight loss:

  • If your pet is overweight and all metabolic disorders have been ruled out, special weight loss medication or prescription diet food can be prescribed to help your pet lose weight.  Weight loss is important to allow greater stamina and endurance.
  • We don’t expect your pet to gain or lose weight during the first 2-4 weeks; the rehabilitation program for this period is designed to decrease pain and increase the joint range of motion. Your pet may not be able to be active enough to burn excess calories.
  • Controlling weight can be done by eliminating table scraps and high-calorie treats. These can be replaced with healthier alternatives, like vegetables (carrots), or ice cubes made of 99% water and 1% chicken broth.
  • Decreasing the amount of food by 25% is very helpful to prevent weight gain during a period of limited activity.

Drugs and Supplements:
Your pet may require long term anti-inflammatory drugs. However, some alternative solutions can eliminate or significantly decrease the usage of anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Long-term rehabilitation program, including visits to our Animal Rehabilitation Center
  • Supplements like polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (Adequan, intramuscular injection), glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Special prescription diet like Hill’s j/d can be prescribed for your pet to help stop the progression of osteoarthritis.
  • Platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections
  • Regenerative stem cell therapy

Physical Rehabilitation:
Osteoarthritis can be localized in one joints or found in all joints. Since every osteoarthritis case is unique in its location and severity, a special protocol will be developed for your pet at our Animal Rehabilitation Center. A wide range of exercises and modalities are used to control and decrease the progression of osteoarthritis.

  • Heat therapy, utilizing heat packs and/or hydrotherapy with water temperature of 85-90 degrees.
  • Low impact exercises like underwater treadmill. One to four treatments per week is ideal.
  • Therapeutic ultrasound and therapeutic laser.
  • Massage, stretching and passive range of motion exercise.


  1. Agnello, K., L. Reynolds, and S. Budsberg, In vivo effects of tepoxalin, an inhibitor of cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase, on prostanoid and leukotriene production in dogs with chronic osteoarthritis. American Journal of Veterinary Research., 2005. 66(6): p. 966-972.
  2. Beale, B., Use of nutraceuticals and chondroprotectants in osteoarthritic dogs and cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America, Small Animal Practice, 2004. 34(1): p. 271-289.
  3. Jones, C., et al., In vivo effects of meloxicam and aspirin on blood, gastric mucosal, and synovial fluid prostanoid synthesis in dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research., 2002. 63(11): p. 1527-1531.
  4. Moreau, M., et al., Clinical evaluation of a nutraceutical, carprofen and meloxicam for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet Record, 2003. 152(11): p. 323-329.