Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) is more commonly known as arthritis.

Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)

DJD is a progressive, non-infectious condition of the weight-bearing joints. This can be caused by age, heredity, or injury related mechanical instability within the joint. During the early stages of DJD, the cartilage softens, creating a roughened joint surface. As the disease progresses, new bone formations (remodeling) are created within the joint, which leads to a decreased blood supply, inhibiting new cartilage growth and repair. Some clinical signs of DJD include:

  • Joint stiffness
  • Difficulty and/or crying out when getting up and down
  • Reluctance to go for walks, car rides or to climb stairs
  • Reluctance to bear weight on limb

As the disease progresses, these symptoms will become more severe, sometimes to the extent that the animal will not use the affected limb. As with humans, the symptoms of DJD are often aggravated by damp and/or cold weather.


DJD is diagnosed through a thorough physical examination, taking into account the patient’s age, heredity, and history of injury, as well as its overall health. In more severe cases, x-rays are often indicated to determine the extent of the disease’s progression.


Treatment of DJD is generally limited to medicinal and physical therapy.

An NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) will often be prescribed to reduce pain in mild cases. In more severe cases which do not respond to NSAIDs, corticosteroids may be indicated. Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin are also often recommended for DJD patients. Obese patients are usually placed on a restricted-calorie prescription diet food with the goal of reducing weight, thereby alleviating some of the pressure on the joints and minimizing pain.

Physical therapies include swimming (not recommended for cats!), short, leashed walks, passive flexion and extension of the affected joint, and acupuncture.

Surgical options for DJD are limited to major surgical joint salvage or replacement procedures like femoral head osteotomy, joint arthrodesis, or complete femoral joint replacement.