Learn some strategies for easing inflammation and arthritis symptoms for dogs and cats.
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Like the people who love them, pets can be prone to osteoarthritis. "Over 90% of all cats have arthritis in either a joint or along the spinal column," says Christopher Frye, DVM, assistant clinical professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Osteoarthritis also affects 1 out of 5 dogs, notes W. Michael Karlin, DVM, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Owners typically notice symptoms as their animals age—a dog that has a harder time getting in and out of the car or a cat having difficulty jumping onto high surfaces. Sound familiar? Here's how to help.

Watch Their Weight

Frye's research suggests obesity not only aggravates animals' joints but also might contribute to inflammation that worsens osteoarthritis symptoms. "We know that dogs who are a good weight tend to develop arthritis a lot more slowly," he says. "And cats that aren't overweight develop fewer bone, joint, and muscle issues." Losing weight, if needed, is the first line of treatment. "It really does reduce the effects of arthritis," says Frye.

Here's how to check to make sure your pet is safe.

Eat Right

Diet plays a role in bone and joint health, especially when pets are young. "Feed puppies and kittens age-appropriate food, which is formulated to build strong muscles and joints," says Frye. That's especially important for large-breed dogs. "You don't want to overfeed them so they grow too fast," Frye adds, as overfeeding can lead to problems later on.

Exercise Consistently

Although a pet with arthritis might prefer lounging on the couch, regular exercise can help reduce pain and improve overall function by preserving lean muscle mass to support joints affected by arthritis. But don't "weekend warrior your dog," Frye says. Instead, aim for consistent daily low-impact activity.

Explore Other Treatments

Your vet may recommend prescription anti-inflammatory medications or even physical therapy. Alternative treatments might help, too. Recent studies suggest acupuncture—either on its own or combined with other treatments—can ease pain and boost mobility.

Many owners reach for supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. "Many owners feel [supplements] help their pets," says Cailin Heinze, VMD, MS, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and assistant professor at Tufts' Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. But "the results from controlled clinical trials in dogs and cats haven't been very impressive—there was typically little difference from the placebo."

Omega-3 fatty acids, both in pets' diets and as supplements, might more effectively dampen inflammation and improve symptoms, says Frye. But check with your vet. "The higher doses typically recommended for arthritis could lead to weight gain," says Heinze.