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How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs: A 6 Step Process

Published: November 2020 | Updated: September 2022

Canine osteoarthritis is a condition that results in degeneration of the joints. The primary cause of this degeneration is the breakdown of the joint cartilage, which provides a cushion between bones and allows for movement. 

This breakdown can be caused by inflammation or injury to the joint, but it's most commonly due to age-related wear and tear. 

Osteoarthritis typically affects the spine, hips, elbows, shoulders, and knees.

Osteoarthritis usually affects large dogs, such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Labrador Retrievers. It can also affect small dogs, but it's less common in these breeds. 

While it is not possible to completely reverse arthritis, it can be managed to allow your dog to continue to live a happy and healthy life. 

There are a multitude of options to treat dogs with arthritis, and through a combination of these methods you can provide your dog with the best chance to feel like a young and spry pup again. 

So, if your dog has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, what’s your plan?

First, Visit Your Veterinarian

The first step to treating osteoarthritis in dogs is getting your dog evaluated by a veterinarian. Your vet will perform a physical exam, as well as possibly take x-rays and blood tests to rule out other conditions that may be causing the symptoms of arthritis. 

He or she will also ask about your dog's behavioral changes, so it's important to keep track of these before you go see the vet:

  • How does your dog act when he gets up in the morning? Is he taking longer than usual? Are there any areas where he seems more uncomfortable than others?
  • Does your dog get up from lying down more often than usual? Does he seem stiffer when walking around the house at night (or even during the day)?
  • Has his grooming schedule changed recently—maybe he rolls in smelly things less often than before? Or maybe he doesn't like being brushed as much anymore because it hurts too much?

The Best Treatments for Arthritis in Dogs

When it comes to treating osteoarthritis in dogs, your vet is the expert. They've seen hundreds of cases and have treated them accordingly. While you may be tempted to go against the recommended treatment plan, try not to do this unless your vet explicitly allows it. 

And,if you're looking for a more natural plan, visiting a holistic veterinarian is an alternate route you can look into. 

One thing that could cause problems is if you don't understand why your vet has prescribed a particular treatment plan. 

There should be a reason behind every recommendation; if you're unsure about something, ask! 

It's better for your dog's health if you take advantage of all available options. In other words, play both sides of the stick for best results. 

1) Help Control Your Dog’s Weight

One of the most critical treatments for arthritis is to provide your dog with the proper nutrition. More specifically, to feed them so they are at the proper weight. Obesity is a major risk factor for osteoarthritis in dogs, as extra body weight will put undue stress on the joints. 

If your dog has arthritis, it is important to make sure they are not overweight. If your dog is extremely overweight, your vet may need to prescribe a specific diet to help them maintain a healthier body condition, so it is important to visit with them regarding nutrition. 

Additionally, dog food that includes omega-3 fatty acids may help in reducing inflammation within the body, including the joints.  

2) Manage Pain 

A vet may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help ease joint pain in your dog. However, it is important that you note that these NSAIDs should be canine specific and not the human NSAIDs in your medicine cabinet.

Other drug medications, such as gabapentin, could be prescribed by your vet instead. The type of pain medication your dog needs will vary on a case-by-case basis depending upon your dog’s level of pain. 

The pain medications discussed above are known to have long-term negative side effects, but don’t worry, luckily there is a natural alternative. 

Cannabinoids (CBD) can be utilized as a natural joint pain reliever through its potent anti-inflammatory effects. Not only does it reduce inflammation, but it can also slow the progression of degenerative joint disease. 

In addition, research has indicated that CBD may enhance the effects of medications such as NSAIDs, which would allow for a reduction in dosage, which could be beneficial for the overall health of the dog.

3) Use Natural Joint Supplements for Dogs

Joint supplements, also commonly known as nutraceuticals, can be utilized to promote joint health. The most common ingredients are hyaluronic acid, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate. 

These compounds are naturally occurring and are integral parts of articular cartilage and synovial fluid, which are essential for proper lubrication within the joint capsule. 

However, these compounds are often formulated in the lab when developing joint supplements. Because of this, the absorption rate is generally low. 

The good news is, eggshell membrane provides a great source of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid in a natural form that has a higher digestibility than its synthetic counterparts, meaning better absorption of these joint-supportive supplements.

4) Provide Adequate Exercise

While high-impact exercise is not beneficial for joint health, some exercise can be utilized in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Exercise can help promote weight loss and can actually help reduce joint stiffness and inflammation. 

Proper exercise for dogs with arthritis will likely be modified. This can include:

  • Short but frequent walks
  • Physical therapy
  • Water treadmill exercise, and
  • Swimming

In addition to the duration and intensity of the exercise bouts, be sure to pay attention to the surface. Aim to exercise your dog on moderately soft ground such as grass or dirt, being careful to avoid hard surfaces and very soft, deep surfaces like sand.

5) Try Therapeutic Treatments

In addition to proper nutrition, exercise, and oral treatments, there are some physical therapeutic treatments that may be able to assist in managing your dog’s arthritis pain. 

Acupuncture can be utilized to decrease swelling and inflammation, as well as release endorphins. Cold laser therapy induces blood flow thereby decreasing inflammation and pain, while promoting healing. Massages and chiropractic care may also help promote proper blood flow. 

Acupuncture is the most commonly chosen therapeutic modality. It’s a form of Chinese medicine that has been used to manage pain and promote healing for thousands of years. 

The practice involves inserting small needles into specific points on your dog's body, which triggers the release of chemicals in the brain that work to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. It can also be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as physical therapy or medication, to help manage osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture is a safe and effective way to reduce inflammation and treat osteoarthritis in dogs. If you're interested in acupuncture for your pup but aren't sure where to begin, ask your vet about local holistic animal care clinics or talk with an acupuncturist at their office. The more research you do before deciding on an approach, the better off all involved will be.

6) Make the Necessary Lifestyle Modifications 

There are some simple things you can do in your day-to-day life to make arthritic dogs more comfortable. 

Provide soft, cushioned flooring around the house for your dog to lie on. This will reduce the pressure put on the joints when resting. Prevent your dog from straining on slippery flooring by providing non-slip mats to prevent over-extension of joints. 

Your dog may have trouble climbing stairs or getting up from lying down, especially after a good night's sleep. He may also have trouble getting comfortable when he lies down: If he has bad hips, he may want to sleep on a hard surface rather than a soft one; if he has arthritis in his elbows or shoulders, he might hold them stiffly in front of him while resting so they don't touch anything else.

You can make your dog more comfortable by providing him with a soft place to rest, like an orthopedic bed or blanket, so that he doesn't have to press against anything that hurts. When he sleeps at night, put pillows under his legs so that his hips aren't bent into an uncomfortable position for hours on end.

Finally, try to minimize dogs' jumping by providing ramps to help them navigate getting in and out of cars, on and off couches, and up and down stairs.

Take Home Message

While osteoarthritis is a complex disease that can feel overwhelming, there are a large number of treatment options available. Through a combination of these treatments, you can provide a high quality and comfortable life for your best friend.

Read More:

Arthritis in Dogs

CBD Oil For Dogs With Arthritis

NSAIDs, Opioids, Cannabinoids and the Control of Pain

How to Ease Your Dog’s Arthritis Pain