Understanding what happens to joints as they age

Watching a much loved pet struggle with the pain of arthritis (osteoarthritis) can be extremely distressing. Most older pets will be affected by it to some degree as it’s caused by wear and tear in the joints. As the joint ages the cartilage or smooth surfaces that help it glide are worn away and the body makes extra bone in these sensitive areas. This causes joints to swell and stiffen, which leads to mobility problems and pain. To help reduce the chance of your pet developing arthritis, make sure they maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight makes joints work harder and causes greater strain. Daily exercise is essential to keep pets healthy and joints mobile.

Unfortunately some breeds of dog are more susceptible to arthritis than others as they age, including: Labradors, Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and Bernese Mountain Dogs. Arthritis can also develop as your pet ages at the site of a previous injury.


Signs that your pet may have arthritis can include: stiffness when walking or rising after rest, limping, a reluctance to exercise, licking at joints, a sudden inability to climb stairs and enlarged joints. If you notice any of these symptoms, speak to your vet who will advise on treatment. Starting early can help manage symptoms and the deterioration of joints, giving your pet back its quality of life.


Although it can impact massively on your pet’s life, there are treatments and medicine available to help alleviate the painful symptoms.

  • Anti-inflammatories and painkillers, there are various types of medicine that can be given daily to help keep your pet comfortable. Your vet will advise you on what’s best for your pet.
  • Laser therapy is a relatively new therapy for arthritis. It works by stimulating the joint on a cellular level, encouraging blood flow and healing.
  • Acupuncture is often used as a drug-free therapy for arthritis, for pets that don’t tolerate traditional medicines.
  • Surgery may be considered in extreme cases which can include the replacement of joints. We are able to carry out this specialised orthopaedic surgery at our Kemp Town veterinary hospital.

If your pet has arthritis, you may be referred to our Mobility Clinic which will develop a tailored plan for your pet. This may include a dietary and exercise plan together with selected treatments to help manage their specific mobility issue and associated pain.