Dogs are a huge part of our lives and we want to do everything to give them the best and healthiest life possible.
While we can’t prevent all diseases, we can make simple changes to how we care for our pets that can make a big impact on how long and comfortable they live.
The earlier you start this process of caring for their arthritis the better. This process involves both you and your veterinarian, as there are many things to consider.
We all have experienced or know someone with arthritis. It can be a painful and often debilitating disease for humans, and it's the same for dogs. However, you have the power to lessen its effects on your dog’s life.
Our goal for this article is to help you identify the potential causes of your dog’s arthritic pain issues and then direct you on a path of how to improve their mobility and comfort with supplements and other treatment options.
For tips on how to make simple changes in your home environment and other useful products for an aging dog, check out "How to Help an Older Dog with Arthritis and Mobility Issues."
What Causes Arthritis: Inflammation
Often, when we think of arthritis, we only think of old or senior large breed dogs. In reality, any breed of dog can be affected. Also, while 50% of dogs ages 5 to 10 years old have arthritis, a whopping 25% of dogs greater than a year of age do, too. So breed and age are not a set standard for arthritis.
Arthritis, which literally means “inflammation of the joint(s),” is a slow and progressive disease with many causes that affect the ENTIRE JOINT (joint capsule, muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc.). One of the largest driving factors for the development of arthritis is inflammation. It doesn’t matter where in the body it occurs or the cause. And one of the most significant causes of inflammation in a dog is obesity.
One of the most important things you can do is help prevent and control inflammation in your dog's body.
Prevent your pet from becoming overweight:
- The presence of fat cells in the body causes a constant low-grade secondary inflammatory condition.
- Always measure their food and feed based on your pet’s individual metabolism. Your veterinarian can help you determine how much to feed your dog.
- Never feed your pet table food – as this contributes to obesity.
- Be aware of how many treats you're giving and the calories they're adding to your dog's daily intake.
- Read more here about the negative impact of excessive weight in dogs with arthritis.
Have an appropriate exercise regime:
- One that doesn’t cause repetitive trauma and abnormal weight distribution, like catching a frisbee, or high-impact agility.
- Proper conditioning by gradually and slowly increasing activity time. Think of it as if you were training for a marathon — you wouldn't run 26 miles on day one! Prevent fatigue by not exercising your dog too hard or too long. Also, watch the severity of impact these activities have on your dog's body. Both are important in helping to lessen inflammation with exercise. Simply walking your pet with a harness and leash is great. Swimming is a great form of exercise as well.
- If you have a puppy or young dog, read our article for other activities to avoid, in order to lessen the probability of arthritis.
Use monthly parasite preventatives:
- Monthly flea and tick prevention, as well as heartworm prevention help for reasons other than their original intent of parasite control.
- Fleas can cause allergic reactions in some dogs, which in turn can cause inflammation in the body. If a tick is carrying a rickettsial disease (Lyme disease, for example), that can create significant joint issues. And if a dog gets heartworm disease, that produces significant trauma and inflammation to the heart and lungs. Remember, we want to do everything to avoid inflammation, so avoiding these parasites can help for this reason and many others.
Have your dog regularly examined by a veterinarian:
- There are many reasons for a dog's pain and mobility issues, so it's important to bring your aging dog to see your veterinarian at least once per year and then twice per year once they become a senior, which for small dogs is around age 10–12 and for larger breeds is 8–10.
Your veterinarian can thoroughly evaluate your pet for signs and regions of pain, localizing the problem and determining the cause. Only then can an effective and well-balanced pain management plan be determined. Again, it’s not always arthritis, and different conditions benefit from different treatments and approaches.
- It's also recommended to have bloodwork done annually (complete blood count, chemistry-checks on organ functions, and urinalysis) to monitor your pet’s general health status.
- The sooner you detect a condition that causes inflammation, such as diabetes or Cushing’s disease, the sooner it can be addressed and treated.
Other Causes of Your Dog's Mobility Issue
Lots of problems could be causing your dog’s mobility issues, and it’s important to work with your veterinarian to determine which are at play in your dog’s specific condition. Arthritis is certainly one of the most common, but it isn't always the culprit. Other causes can also include:
- Degeneration of the nerves going to the muscles
- Muscle weakness and/or muscle mass loss
- Torn cruciate ligament or other trauma
On the other hand, it isn’t always an orthopedic or neurologic condition that’s hindering your dog’s mobility. The cause could actually be pain unrelated to their muscles, joints, or bones, such as:
- Inflammation of or a mass associated with one of the organs in their abdomen (e.g., spleen, liver)
- Heart or respiratory disease can cause mobility issues
- Overgrown nails
The above conditions are just some of the reasons that could be causing your dog's pain and mobility issues. Knowing the cause will help determine the best course of action to make your dog live comfortably.
Medications, Supplements, and Other Means of Decreasing Your Dog's Inflammation and Pain
Pain management in dogs with arthritis isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” topic. Achieving their best comfort often requires more than one medication and supplement, and it frequently benefits from ancillary treatments or "modalities," such as massage, laser therapy, physical therapy, etc. As is the case with people, the most effective and often safest pain management protocols for dogs are typically “multi-modal” – a few things need to be done together for the best results. Work with your veterinarian to figure out the best pain management approach and combination of treatments for your dog.
Joint Supplements for Dogs
*NOTE* DO NOT give human joint supplements to your dog, as they may contain ingredients harmful to your pet and may not actually contain the correct amount of each listed ingredient. Only use veterinary-formulated joint supplements for your pet.
Joint supplements are a crucial, drug-free, part of helping your dog with arthritis. They aid in the protection of the cartilage in the joint as well as act as a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Commonly recommended supplements include Synovi G4 chews, Cosequin DS, or Nutramax Dasuquin with MSM.
What Ingredients to Look for in Canine Joint Supplements
I usually recommend starting with Glucosamine and MSM, and as your dog ages and possible symptoms arise, then you can find ones with more ingredients, as per the list below:
- Glucosamine – helps slow down collagen degradation and inhibit inflammation-producing factors.
- MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) – crucial for connective tissue and an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. It may also have hepatoprotective properties as well (which protects the liver). Helps with pain due to how it works.
- Boswellia serrata – good anti-inflammatory activity.
- Superoxide Dismutase – helps to scavenge molecules known to cause damage to tissues.
- Yucca schidigera – a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
- Chondroitin Sulfate – acts as an anti-inflammatory agent as well as helps reduce the breakdown of collagen.
*NOTE* Consult your veterinarian before starting a joint supplement for their recommendation on the best one for your pet and to be sure it is safe if your dog has any other health issues.
New Zealand Deer Velvet Joint Supplement
It has two ingredients that have been known to help with joint issues, New Zealand deer velvet and green-lipped mussels.
Deer velvet contains a protein called pilose. This protein has been shown, in both laboratory and animal studies to have anti-inflammatory effects. It is also rich in other components, such as chondroitin sulfate, collagen, fatty acids, and glucosamine sulfate, all of which have been found beneficial in the management of arthritis. These components are also effective in helping to heal joints, muscles, and connective tissue.
Green-lipped mussels contain several components, that when blended with deer velvet, enhance the treatment of arthritis. Those components include omega-3 fatty acids, other bioactive lipids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and glycosaminoglycans. This unique combination in green-lipped mussels makes it an anti-inflammatory agent as well as chondroprotective (delays progression of joint space narrowing and protects chondrocytes).
Dr. Buzby explains her research and the care she puts into sourcing the ingredients for this supplement.
Mabel shares her life with Preventive Vet team member, Mia:
"When we adopted Mabel the pug a little over two years ago, she was already over 10 years old, and dealing with rear myelopathy — meaning she doesn’t have full use of her back legs. She is prone to dragging the tops of her feet on the short walks we take and when she stands at her bowls to eat or drink, she sometimes stands on top of her back toes as though she can't feel them, and we have to correct them for her.
To get on our couch or on our bed, we have usually had to help her up the pet steps.
She still needs help up those stairs, but since starting the supplement 60 days ago, there are times she surprises us and decides to run up them all on her own. She also spends more time running in our back yard, trying to catch the crows, or sprinting to the fence to bark at the neighbor kids.
Unfortunately, the most frequent use of her extra mobility is usually displayed while chasing our cat, Mazel, around the house. While this isn't how we would prefer for her to use her legs, the improvement is undeniable. In fact, we had dinner with a cousin recently, and completely randomly, she remarked about how she couldn't believe the improvement in Mabel's mobility over the course of knowing her.
We were given this supplement to try, but we're now buying it, as we don't want to stop the progress Mabel has made."
Omega-3 Supplements for Dogs
The Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils can help to decrease inflammation in a dog’s arthritic joints when given at a certain dosage. Here are three supplements with Omega-3 that we recommend: Welactin Omega-3 is a liquid supplement that's great for any size of dog.
- Supplements that use blood proteins that are rich in immunoglobulins may help reduce inflammation, promote healing, and provide other benefits for dogs. The WINPRO line of supplements (Immunity, Mobility, Allergy, Focus, Training) has been met with very positive feedback from dog owners. In our own experience, the office dogs love the taste of their supplements. You only give your dog one or two per day (depending on their weight) so a bag of 60 will last you 1–2 months. You should not give your dog more than the recommended amount.
Specialty Dog Diets for Joint Health
There are prescription joint/mobility diets specifically formulated to help arthritic dogs. These include Purina Joint Mobility (JM), Hill’s Metabolic + Mobility, and Royal Canin Mobility Support JS. Speak with your veterinarian to see if such a diet might help your dog.
Other Arthritis Therapies for Dogs
- Adequan is an injectable therapy to help dogs with certain types of arthritis. It acts by helping to protect the cartilage within joints and helps to reduce inflammation. The cartilage is the thin, smooth layer of cells that covers the bony surfaces within joints. Healthy cartilage is necessary to prevent the painful "bone on bone" rubbing that characterizes degenerative arthritis. Many dogs have benefitted from having Adequan injections as part of their pain management protocol, yet it's not safe or appropriate for all dogs in all situations. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian to see if these injections might help your dog.
- Stem cell therapy is a treatment that, while still in its infancy and while still needing further scientific research, does seem to be showing some promise for helping dogs with arthritis (and perhaps a few other conditions). Depending on the extent of your dog's mobility problems (and your finances — stem cell therapy often costs in the $2,000–3,000 range, this could be something worth researching and discussing with your veterinarian. You can see this Washington Post article and this wonderful synopsis of veterinary stem cell therapy on the Data For Good. If you have pet insurance, some policies will cover this and many of the treatments mentioned above, if prescribed by your veterinarian.
Prescription Medications for Dogs with Arthritis or Mobility Issues
Prescription medications often play an important role in pain management for mobility-restricted dogs. The specific medications needed and the degree to which your dog might need and depend upon them is different in each situation, and will likely change over time as some of the supplements and tips discussed above are added in. What is also very important to note is that pain-relieving medications should only be given to your dog under the guidance and recommendation of your veterinarian. Continued use of these medications will require bloodwork every six months to monitor their effect on your dog’s body.
There are several different types of NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that may be recommended by your veterinarian — every veterinarian has their own preference. Some commonly prescribed include Rimadyl® (carprofen), DeramaxxTM, Previcox®, Metacam®, and Galliprant®. Some are given once daily while others are given twice daily. In addition to these, there are other pain medications that are commonly used in veterinary medicine, such as Gabapentin or Tramadol.
WARNING: Do not administer your own pain medications, or even “doggie aspirin” to your dog without first speaking with your veterinarian. Many well-intentioned dog owners (and even human medical professionals) have inadvertently injured their dogs or complicated their care by administering over-the-counter or human-prescription medications to their dogs. Please do not do this; always speak with your veterinarian first.
Does CBD Help with Dog Arthritis?
Lastly, many people ask whether or not marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) products can help ease a dog's arthritis pain. And this is getting to be an even more common question as more and more states legalize marijuana, and more and more companies are making and promoting CBD-based chews, powders, and other treatments for all kinds of ailments in pets. The truth is though, we just don't know yet and it's a pretty mucky legal picture, too. Check out our extensive article on the topic which includes links to recent and promising studies on CBD and pets: What to Know If You Want to Give Your Dog CBD.