Degenerative Joint Disease in elderly pets


Degenerative joint disease (DJD), more commonly referred to as arthritis, is often seen in older pets and although signs are sometimes obvious, they can also be subtle and hard to pick up on. 

Signs of DJD in dogs may include reduced exercise tolerance, a stiff gait which may improve a little as they move around, reluctance to be picked up or petted, and difficulty or reluctance to jump up onto things or into cars.

Signs your cat may be suffering from DJD may be subtle and include a more poorly kept coat due to grooming themselves less, becoming less active, and an array of behavioural changes to compensate for painful joints. For example, a cat that normally jumps straight onto a table may first jump onto a chair to divide one big movement into two smaller ones.

Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose DJD via a thorough physical examination as well as potentially taking some x-rays. X-rays can be used to visualise the degree of degeneration in the joints and rule out other potential causes of pain. 

Management Options:

  • Joint supplements – several dietary supplements are available that can have beneficial effects in arthritis management. There is also an injectable formulation called Synovan which helps to promote the production of healthy joint fluid to help cushion and support joints. These are useful in pets that have already developed arthritis but are most beneficial in slowing the progression of the disease if started before signs are apparent.
  • Diets – Specially formulated diets such as Royal Canin Mobility help to support joint function as part of arthritis management.
  • Environmental modulation – Providing a soft bed and warm blankets can help to ease aching joints. You can also purchase or make ramps to allow pets to still have easy access to their favourite spots or get into the car if jumping is too painful. 
  • Weight control – maintaining a healthy weight not only helps to take some of the load off arthritic joints to help ease pain, but it also slows the onset and progression of joint degeneration which is also extremely important in younger animals that have yet to develop arthritis. 
  • Pain relief – several different types of pain relief are available for pets which work best when used in conjunction with the other methods mentioned above. Most of these are safe to use long-term, provided that regular blood tests are performed to ensure kidney and liver function remains adequate to break down and utilise the medications. 

If your pet is starting to show signs of DJD, contact your veterinarian to arrange an appointment to discuss how this can be managed to help your pet live a pain-free and active life for as long as possible.

Dr Georgia Paterson BVSc