How to Help an Older Dog with Arthritis


As dogs age, they become prone to various diseases and conditions. One of the most common conditions that aging dogs experience is arthritis.  This leads to decreased mobility, less activity, stiff and sore joints, and a general decrease in the activities that the dog normally enjoyed with enthusiasm.

Arthritis in dogs is a general term and is also known as osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD). While most dog owners have heard of arthritis, just what is it? What can a dog owner do to help an older dog with arthritis?

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition involving the breaking down and thinning of cartilage within joints, the formation of bone spurs, joint fluid buildup (effusion), and thickening or scarring of the connective tissue. It is a degenerative, progressive, and irreversible disease of the joints that causes decreased mobility of joints as well as pain.

The prevalence of arthritis in dogs varies but is reported to be up to 80% of dogs greater than 8 years of age in North America. Canine Arthritis Resources and Education, CARE, suggests that arthritis affects 1 in 5 dogs and is the most common cause of chronic pain, eventually leading to euthanasia.

Arthritis can be caused by the normal aging process from years of normal wear and tear on the joints. This is especially common in large breeds, sporting dogs, and obese dogs. Arthritis can also occur from trauma or injuries of the joints, excessive force, wear, or tear of the joints, poor joint alignment, and congenital orthopedic conditions. Arthritis can be seen in all ages, breeds, and sexes of dogs but is most commonly noticed in aging large breed dogs. Two common conditions that predispose dogs to arthritis are elbow and hip dysplasia.

How to Help an Older Dog with Arthritis

Older dog relaxing on dog bed

1. Know the Signs of Arthritis

The clinical signs and symptoms of arthritis can vary depending on the stage of the joint disease. Commonly, you will see signs such as:

  •     Lameness or limping – this indicates pain in a limb or joint.
  •     Muscle loss or atrophy – this indicates a decreased use of the leg.
  •     Joint swelling – due to a buildup of joint fluid, known as effusion.
  •     Decreased mobility – can be seen as less activity than normal, walking instead of running, and slowing down.
  •     Difficulty getting up or laying down – dogs can be slow to get up from laying down, slow to lay down, stiff and sore after getting up, or have difficulty standing up on their own.

2. See Your Veterinarian

If you are worried that your dog is showing signs of pain or discomfort and suspect arthritis, it is important to take your dog to see your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will perform a physical and orthopedic examination and run tests such as radiographs (X-rays) to confirm a diagnosis of arthritis. There are many treatment options for arthritis in dogs, but your veterinarian is key in providing treatment and management plans. He or she will make recommendations based on what is most appropriate for your dog.

3. Provide Pain Management

Pain management is an extremely important part of helping a dog with arthritis.  It is important to provide pain management under the direction of your veterinarian. Do not give your dog over the counter pain medications or medications meant for humans unless your veterinarian prescribes them. These can be harmful and even toxic to your dog. A veterinarian will often choose a multi-modal approach to your dog’s pain management. This means that several different tactics will be used.

  • Adequan injections – Adequan is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan that helps to control cartilage loss, lubricate, and decrease inflammation in joints.
  • NSAIDs – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs relieve pain and inflammation. It is important to note that you only give these medications under the direction of your veterinarian as side effects can include kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, ulcers, or inappetence. Some examples include:
    • Carprofen (Rimadyl)
    • Meloxicam (Metacam)
    • Deracoxib (Deramaxx)
    • Firocoxib (Previcox)
    • Grapiprant (Galliprant)
  • Pain medications – Other types of pain medications that your veterinarian may prescribe include:
    •     Gabapentin
    •     Tramadol
    •     Opiods
  • Stem cell therapy – Stem cell therapy is a type of regenerative medicine to allow the body to repair and heal.
  • Surgery – In some cases, surgery may be recommended to help heal and repair the joint.

4. Provide Supplements

Joint supplements help support and protect the cartilage and aid in slowing down the process of arthritis. These may include ingredients such as:

  • Glucosamine hydrochloride – A building block of the cartilage and helps cartilage cells grow.
  • Chondroitin sulfate – Helps block enzymes that destroy cartilage.
  • Fish oil – Provides important omega-3 fatty acids that decrease inflammation.
  • Boswellia serrata – A tree extract with NSAID-like effects.
  • Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASUs) – Protects the cartilage.

5. Make Environmental and Lifestyle Changes

Because a dog with arthritis will have difficulty getting around, up, and down, provide assistance around the house.

  • Orthopedic dog beds – A comfy bed to lay on that will support and protect the joints will make for a great nap or night of sleep.
  • Dog rampsUse dog ramps to assist your dog up on the couch, bed, into the vehicle, and even up and down small stairs to go outside.
  • Non-slip surfaces – Provide non-slip surfaces especially in areas where your dog spends the most time. Hard floors are slippery and hard for the dog to get up and feel steady when walking. Use carpet, non-slip rugs, gym floor mats or tiles, or yoga mats for better grip.
  • Block off stairs – Restrict access around stairs. You don’t want your dog falling down the stairs or have trouble using them. Make sure when they do use stairs, you help support and steady them.
  • Raised food & water bowls – If your dog has arthritis or pain in the neck or shoulders, a raised bowl can help make it easier on these joints. Place the bowls on a step stool, homemade platform, or find a raised set.
  • Trim your dog’s nails – Regular nail trimming or dremmeling is important to keep the nails short and help with mobility.
  • Get grippy – Use toe grips and paw pad friction support to help your dog get a better grip on hard surfaces.
  • Other assistive devices – Harnesses such as the Help ‘Em Up Harness or Ginger Lead are great to provide extra support and help take some weight off painful joints.

6. Alternative Therapies

There are many fantastic alternative therapies that are now becoming more readily available for pets. Ask your veterinarian if they provide these integrative services or know of a vet who does.

  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture is a treatment where special needles are inserted at specific points on the body to stimulate pain relief and healing.
  • Cold laser therapy – Cold laser therapy is a non-invasive way to encourage healing, provide pain relief, and decrease inflammation.
  • Massage – Who doesn’t like a good massage when their joints are aching?
  • Hydrotherapy – This method of exercise and therapy involves a pool or underwater treadmill to encourage mobility of joints, weight loss, and exercise while taking the weight off of painful joints.

7. Regular Controlled Exercise

Dogs with arthritis are typically less active. A less active dog is prone to stiffness, soreness, and weight gain. Help your dog stay active by providing physical therapy, range of motion exercises, controlled exercise, assisted exercise, and hydrotherapy. Make sure to avoid heat and don’t push a dog that is in pain.

8. Diet

Diet is a very important part of managing care of an arthritic dog. Obesity is a huge concern in dogs in general and a bigger concern if the dog has arthritis. Excessive weight is extremely hard on already sore joints. Try to keep your dog at a lean body weight.

  • Weight loss diet – Use a weight loss or weight management diet for dogs prone to obesity. Make sure it is a complete and balanced food.
  • Limit calories – In addition to a weight loss diet, limit treats and table scraps as these can easily put on the pounds.
  • Some diets are formulated specifically with joint health and weight management in mind, such as:

Hopefully, these suggestions will help you help your older dog with arthritis. Remember to work closely with your veterinarian to find a multi-modal approach to manage arthritis.



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