Pet InfoRx®
Dog Arthritis

You may be wondering if you can make a difference in your dog’s life if they have arthritis. The simple answer is – YES!

The information below will help you know what to do and how to help your dog feel more comfortable.


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Dogs Are 'Stoic'

old dachshund with pain

Dogs are masters at hiding pain. While this "instinct" may have served them well back in their pre-domesticated days, it can lead to prolonged suffering and otherwise avoidable worsening of problems. To best help your dog stay healthy and comfortable, recognize that they won't always show you blatantly obvious signs of pain. Get to know what's normal for your pup, and then pay attention to even the subtle signs.

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What Is Arthritis?

It goes by many names, Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), Osteoarthritis (OA), Arthrosis or Arthritis, but in the end, we are all discussing the same health issue.

This disease is a degenerative (changing to a less functional form) and progressive (continual) process affecting the entire joint, which includes the joint capsule, the bone, the cartilage, the joint fluid, the ligaments, the tendons, the muscles as well as the nervous system.

In a healthy canine joint, the cartilage and synovial fluid act as a cushion to allow a joint to move smoothly in a full range of motion with the support of the surrounding capsule, ligaments, and muscles. In an arthritic joint, that cushion is worn down, the joint capsule is damaged, and nerves are affected, which results in pain, inflammation, and decreased mobility.

What Causes Arthritis?

Arthritis has many causes. It was once thought to be most common in obese, middle-aged to senior large breed dogs. The data now proves that almost 50% of dogs of any breed or size, 5 to 10 years of age, are affected. And 25% of dogs greater than 1 year of age are affected as well. So, it can be a young dog disease!

While breed has an impact on arthritis (Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds are more likely to get arthritis due to their genetic makeup), it impacts small breed dogs, dogs with abnormal confirmation (bow-legged breeds such as bulldogs or chihuahuas), and non-obese athletic dogs.

Certainly, obesity – due to the degree of constant, low-grade inflammation that it creates in a dog’s entire body – is a significant contributing factor to the development of arthritis, as is poor nutrition.

Any repetitive activity with uneven weight loading or distribution can lead to degeneration. Also, joints can be negatively affected by dislocation, trauma, or ligament damage, such as in a cruciate injury. Any inflammation in the body, especially chronic inflammation from immune-mediated diseases, can lead to arthritis as well.

The joints in the lower spine (but also the neck region), hips, and limbs are those affected most by arthritic changes.

Signs of an arthritic dog can include:

  • stiffness and/or limping
  • change in behavior – grumpy or biting (especially when touched in a painful spot)
  • reluctance to get up from a lying down position
  • limited walking or running, decreased activity overall
  • inability to arch back or move the head in all directions
  • pain

german shepherd with arthritis

What You Should Do If Your Dog Has Arthritis

Your veterinarian will likely recommend that your dog maintain an ideal body weight and an active lifestyle. These are the two best ways to combat and prevent the progression of osteoarthritis.

Your vet will likely recommend specific supplements, medications, and a tailored exercise regimen to keep your dog comfortable if a diagnosis of arthritis is made. You must follow these recommendations closely.

In advanced cases, additional medications and therapies may be helpful, including injections into the joint or those designed to prevent cartilage breakdown, laser therapy, platelet-rich plasma, stem cell treatments, physical therapy, and acupuncture.

Keep Your Dog Comfortable

Arthritis is a painful and uncomfortable disease. If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, keep in close contact with your veterinarian and be sure to administer medications as directed.

How you can make your home easier to navigate for dogs with mobility issues:

  • Lay out rugs, carpet tiles, or carper runners where your dog walks most to prevent them from slipping on hard floor or tile surfaces. "Doggie socks" and toe grips can help as well.

  • If your dog is allowed on the furniture, you may want to provide a ramp or pet stairs.

  • If your dog has to use stairs to go in and out to potty, build a ramp or carry them so they don't have to use the stairs.

  • There are special harnesses to help support your dog if they have issues walking and going potty outside.

  • Get a pet bed that is easy for them to get on and off of but also well padded. There are several comfortable orthopedic pet beds on the market. 

  • For the affected joint and surrounding area (if approved by your veterinarian), warm your pet's muscles for 15 to 20 minutes with a warm compress (just a towel soaked in hot water) or a heating pad made especially for pets, as human heating pads can get too hot for animals.

    When the area is warmed up, do a passive range of motion (ROM). Gently move the affected joint slow along its normal path of movement in all directions. Starting with 5 minutes a session, twice a day, and then every few days, increase it by 1 to 2 minutes each session.

    After ROM exercise, gently massage the muscles for a few minutes and then ice the area for 20 minutes. Do not put ice directly on the skin or fur. Wrap it in a towel or use a cold gel therapy bag. The ice helps with any spasms and inflammation.

  • Swimming or a water treadmill is very helpful with low-impact exercising.

  • For bathing in a tub, use a grip-type surface on the bottom, like a yoga mat or towel.

Read more tips, details about the products mentioned above, and supplement suggestions.

dog with arthritis being pulled in a wagon

How Do You Know Things Are Improving?

After your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis and has been started on medications, you should notice that your companion is moving better and is less painful.

Medications should reduce inflammation and pain and improve your dog’s range of motion in the affected joints. Your pup should be able to run and play with ease and seem more active overall.

How Do You Know When Things Are Not Improving? What You Should Do.

If your dog has not made any improvements during two weeks of medications, it is time to talk to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may require additional testing or perhaps prescribe additional pain meds to keep your dog as comfortable as possible.

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