Arthritis, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD), is common in older dogs and cats. It is caused by deterioration of the layers of cartilage that line and protect a dog’s joints and by injuries to the joints that have occurred over the pet’s lifetime. This inflammation of the joints can affect any joint but is most common in the hips, lower back, shoulders, and knees. Early signs include intermittent lameness, a stiff gait, difficulty walking up or down stairs, or difficulty jumping. Some pets may lick painful joints. Many dogs are stiffest after a long nap or during cold weather. Your veterinarian will recommend x-rays to determine the cause and location of the diseases that might be causing the lameness such as luxating kneecaps, hip dysplasia, and autoimmune disease. If your pet is overweight, the first step of treatment usually is a simple reducing diet which decreases the workload on the affected joints. Keeping your pet at an ideal weight will delay the onset of this debilitating disease. There are a lot of options for relieving the pain, but most treatments are only palliative since you can’t undo the damage that time and life have already done. The most common three-pronged approach to treating arthritis is weight control, moderate exercise, and medication/supplements. Maintaining normal body weight is important for caring for an arthritic dog or cat. Obesity is one of the most common health problems and those extra pounds mean extra pain. Moderate daily exercise keeps your pets’ muscles strong and flexible and decreases the pain of arthritis. For dogs swimming is an excellent form of exercise because the water buys up your dog and decreases the pressure on his joints. Exercise provides the greatest benefit if you begin a regular program before or shortly after your pet begins to show signs of arthritis. If he has been in pain for some time without getting much exercise you should talk with your veterinarian before beginning any exercise program. Nutritional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help many patients. These supplements provide your pet with more of the building blocks needed to maintain joint cartilage. Your veterinarian will suggest the proper dosage usually given once a day. Another treatment is to use a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG) which is known to prevent cartilage breakdown and increase the health of the joint fluid normally found in the joints. PSGAG are administered as injections (Adequan) that your veterinarian will provide and few side effects are associated with this treatment. Some dogs and cats have greatly benefited from this treatment. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and monoclonal antibodies can provide substantial relief for arthritic dogs and cats. All of these drugs can provide great relief but many do have side effects including gastrointestinal ulcers and liver disease so your veterinarian will want to run a blood test prior to prescribing. Alternative medicine such as laser therapy and acupuncture can also provide great relief for arthritis, and you should discuss adding this into your pet’s treatment plan.