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Stiff & Painful Joints

Improving Mobility and Reducing Pain

Stiff joints can have an overall impact on your pet’s general health and quality of life.  Although arthritic joints are not curable, the good news is that there are things that  can be done to help improve your pet’s mobility and reduce pain and discomfort.

The Signs

Cats and dogs will usually hide the fact that they are in pain, so it’s important to know the signs to look out for as taking action early can help improve their mobility and reduce pain.

Signs that your dog may have stiff joints:

  • stiffness, especially after resting
  • hesitates to go up and down stairs
  • lags behind or tires easily during walks
  • prefers to lie down rather than sit or stand
  • whimpers, growls or snaps when you touch his joints
  • scuffed or uneven wear on the nails
  • swollen joints, especially the knees or the hocks
  • reluctance to be groomed or towel dried


Signs that your cat may have stiff joints:

  • Decreased activity
  • Hesitates to jump on or off surfaces
  • Misses the litter tray or toilets inappropriately
  • Walks stiffly or limps
  • No longer wants to go outside
  • Rarely interacts with people and hisses if approached
  • Spends less time grooming which leads to matting of its coat
  • Rarely purrs or shows signs of contentment
  • Reluctant to play
  • Shows pain when touched


Understanding Stiff Joints

Stiff joints are often the result of increased wear and tear.  The cartilage of the joint can wear away quicker than it can be replaced.  This leads to pain and stiffness and eventually bony changes within the joint which can seriously affect the cat or dog’s mobility.

The Causes

Age: As pets get older, joint cartilage will progressively wear away.  It is much more common in cats and dogs over 7 but younger pets can suffer from stiff joints, too.

Breed: ‘At-risk’ dog breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds and Rottweilers.  At-risk’ cat breeds include Himalayans, Persians and Siamese.

Being overweight: Excess weight leads to excess stress on the joints and cartilage, this increases the risk of joint damage leading to painful osteoarthritis.

Accidents or trauma: Trauma to cartilage may lead to stiff joints later in life and adversely affect mobility.

Treatments that Can Help

Although there is no cure for stiff joints there is still much that can be done to reduce the symptoms and the earlier that action is taken the better the results, and the better the quality of life for your pet:

  • Pain Medication
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight
  • Clinically Proven Joint Support Diets
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Regular Gentle Exercise
  • Physiotherapy
  • Hydrotherapy

Pain Medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be prescribed which are very effective at managing pain and reduce inflammation, thereby improving your pet’s mobility and their quality of life.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can have a large impact on a pet’s mobility and improve its quality of life as excess weight puts extra stress and pressure on the joints and cartilage.  Because cats and dogs with stiff joints may exercise less it they can gain more weight, leading to a vicious circle.

Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic is clinically proven to support weight loss at home.  In an in-home feeding study, 96% of dogs lost weight within 2 months.  It works by activating the body’s natural ability to burn fat and turns fat-storers into fat-burners, helping them lose weight and prevent weight regain.

Clinically Proven Joint Support Diets

Hill’s joint support Prescription Diets have been clinically proven to improve cats’ and dogs’ mobility by soothing aching joints and preserving healthy cartilage. Hill’s Prescription Diet j/d can help cats run, walk and jump more easily in just 28 days, and dogs enjoy the same benefits in just 21 days.

Hill’s Prescription diet Metabolic + Mobility combines the joint support benefits of Hill’s j/d with the weight loss benefits of Hill’s Metabolic, reducing body weight by 13% in just 60 days.

Dietary Supplements

Pets with arthritis or other joint conditions can benefit from dietary supplements.

Vetpro is a fast-acting natural health care supplement that promotes healthy joint function and aids and soothes stiff joints and helps maintain quality of life. With its high strength formula results are usually seen within a week.  Speak with your vet to see if your pet could benefit.

Exercise for Dogs

Gentle exercise is extremely good for helping to keep the joints moving freely and to help maintain a healthy weight.

Control the amount of exercise - dogs will usually happily run until their joints can take no more. Allow short runs and then put them back on the lead. 

Avoid high impact activity such as jumping to catch a ball, or activity that involves sudden stopping like retrieving a ball

Speak to your vet about a suitable exercise routine for your pet

Adaptations to your Pet's Environment

Small changes to your pet's environment can help manage their reduced mobility. 

  • Use rugs on hard floors making it easier for dogs to walk without slipping
  • Use ramps to help them get into the car more easily or to avoid steps
  • Raise their bowl to save them bending down so far
  • Always dry thoroughly after bathing or swimming


  • Animals, like people, respond well to physiotherapy. It can help reduce pain, improve joint movement and flexibility and restore maximum function. 
  • In many instances specific exercises can further improve strength, flexibility, stability and proprioception.


Hydrotherapy using an underwater treadmill can be used in the treatment of arthritis in cats and dogs. The water creates buoyancy which helps reduce the stress on joints while minimising pain and allows easier movement and extended range of movement for stiff joints and increases muscle strength and endurance; whilst the warmth of the water assists in pain reduction and increases blood flow which helps promote healing.