How can my pet have arthritis so young?

To answer this excellent question, let’s go over 3 classic, real-life scenarios.

Amber and the torn ACL

Amber, a 9 month old Lab, was presented for a torn ACL. An ACL can literally tear at any age, so we see it in puppies, young dogs, mature dogs and seniors. Even cats can occasionally have a torn ACL.
And we certainly can address them at any age.

Because of a bit of denial and back-and-forth between rest and pain medications, Amber’s surgery was delayed for a couple of months.

During that time, the body tried to patch things up by adding scar tissue and bone spurs around the knee. After surgery, I described her arthritis as severe. Yet she was only 11 months at the time of surgery!

Why? Simply because the knee had been wobbly for a long time, which gave the body plenty of time to try to patch things up – which it did poorly.

By the way, please note that when I say “arthritis”, it’s a bit of a simplification.

It may be a bit oversimplistic, but basically:

Arthritis = osteo-arthritis = Degenerative Joint Disease = DJD = bone spurs.

Sweetie and the dislocated kneecaps

Sweetie, a 6 month old kitten, was really struggling to run and jump like her sibling Simba.

She limped and was painful in both back legs.

Her issue? Both her kneecaps (or patellas) were dislocating (or dislocated, or luxated).

Because of a common misconception that cats don’t need their kneecaps fixed, surgery was delayed by 3 months.

After surgery, I described her arthritis as severe.

She didn’t have that many bone spurs, but her cartilage was discolored. Instead of being white, shiny and smooth, it was pinkish, dull and irregular.

Worse, it was partially gone under her kneecap and in the groove where the kneecap is supposed to stay.

The reason for the “bone on bone” (instead of cartilage on cartilage) is that every time the kneecap popped in & out of the groove, it mechanically damaged the cartilage.

It’s simple wear and tear.

Tank and hip dysplasia

Tank, a 9 month old Cocker spaniel, was in severe pain in both back legs. He was very painful in both hips. His problem? Severe hip dysplasia, which means that his hips were not formed properly.

Similar to Sweetie’s case, the ball popped in and out of the socket. Not only did it mechanically damage the cartilage (wear and tear), but as in Amber’s case, that abnormal motion also led to bone spurs.

The hip is a ball and socket joint.

Tank got pain relief thanks to a surgery that removed the ball part (Femoral Head Ostectomy or FHO).

As you now understand, the severity of the arthritis in Amber, Sweetie and Tank has nothing to do with their ages.

It has to do with their conditions, and the duration of the issue before surgery took place.

By doing surgery early on, we can’t fix the arthritis.

Surgery can however correct the actual problem, and slow down the progression of arthritis.

If you would like to learn more about how your pet can have safe surgery and anesthesia, contact us through

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling veterinary surgeon in Pennsylvania & New Jersey. An award-winning author, he loves to share his adventures in practice along with information about vet medicine and surgery that can really help your pets. Dr. Zeltzman specializes in orthopedic, neurologic, cancer, and soft tissue surgeries for dogs, cats, and small exotics. By working with local family vets, he offers the best surgical care, safest anesthesia, and utmost pain management to all his patients. Sign up to get an email when he updates his blog, and follow him on Facebook, too!