As a dog owner, you never want your beloved pet to feel any pain. But much like people, some dogs may develop arthritis in their lifetime. Although it can happen to any dog, arthritis is more common among larger breeds and older dogs — having more weight pressure, as well as years of wear and tear, can take its toll on a dog's joints.
While there is no cure for this condition, it's not a hopeless situation. There's a multitude of ways to manage your dog's arthritis and help your canine companion feel as good as possible. In this guide, we'll help you learn how to help a dog with arthritis at home.
What Is Dog Arthritis?
Similar to human arthritis, canine arthritis is a medical condition that causes the joints to become inflamed. Also called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD), this ailment results from the gradual deterioration of joint cartilage, which is the sturdy yet flexible connective tissue that allows joints to move freely and smoothly.
However, in osteoarthritis, this cushiony, healthy cartilage breaks down, resulting in pain, inflammation, restricted movement, and even tiny outgrowths of bone (bone spurs). While arthritis can develop in any joint in the body, it most frequently affects the knees, shoulders, hips, elbows, and lower back area.
Some reasons a dog might develop arthritis include:
- Age: As dogs get older, certain functions are more at risk of breaking down. Although advanced age doesn't cause arthritis, it's usually a factor in senior dogs.
- Dog Breed: Larger breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds, Great Danes are more prone to developing arthritis. Dogs with bigger body frames and more weight put extra pressure on their joints, making the cartilage more susceptible to repetitive stress.
- Injury: If your dog has had an injury such as a fracture or torn ligament, it could cause abnormal rubbing in the joints.
- Infections or Illness: Bacterial or fungal infections can trigger the deterioration of joint cartilage.
- Genetic Predisposition: Hereditary diseases such as hip dysplasia, knee dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia can create malformed, misaligned, and therefore arthritic joints.
Signs of an Arthritic Dog
Since your beloved pet can't tell you when they're in pain, it's critical that you pay attention and look for signs that might indicate they're struggling with arthritis. Tell your vet if you notice changes in your dog's posture, the way they move, and their level of activity. The doctor will likely want to examine your dog, run blood tests, and conduct X-rays to properly diagnose your pet and offer treatment options.
Some canine arthritis symptoms to look for include:
- Rising slowly and having trouble getting up
- Appearing to be stiff instead of flexible
- Walking slowly or limping
- Reluctance to play, run, or jump
- Struggling to lie down or find a comfortable position
- Flinching or whimpering when touched or petted
- Lameness (this is often a sign of arthritis in older dogs)
- Limbs becoming thinner and less muscular
- Swelling in joint areas
7 Ideas for How To Help a Dog With Arthritis at Home
Once you get your pet properly diagnosed by the vet, discuss the different ways you can help keep your dog comfortable. Here are the top options for how to help a dog with arthritis at home.
1. Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Since arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, consider feeding your dog a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods. Look for high-quality dog food with omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to dampen harmful inflammation in the body. Like humans, dogs cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids on their own, so it's important they get them through diet. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are usually a good choice as long as your dog doesn't have an allergy. You can add PetHonesty's omega-3 fish oil directly to your dog's food.
2. Regular Exercise
Along with feeding your dog a nutritious diet with anti-inflammatory ingredients, make sure you're engaging them in regular physical movement. If you have a big dog or your dog could stand to lose a few pounds, exercising is key for relieving joint pressure. Whether it's going for leash walks, playing fetch, doing doggy yoga, or swimming, make sure the physical activity is comfortable for their fitness level.
3. Dietary Supplements
Supplements support a dog's overall healthy lifestyle at any age, but they become increasingly important as your dog gets older. Scientific research shows that supplements can promote joint health and slow down deterioration. Look for the following ingredients to reduce inflammation, pain, and swelling:
- Vitamin C: Not only does vitamin C help keep your dog's immune system going strong, it also helps reduce inflammation.
- Glucosamine: This naturally occurring compound promotes joint support, pain relief, and digestive health.
- Turmeric: This yellow-orange spice is a powerful anti-inflammatory and painkiller.
- Chondroitin: Numerous studies show that this substance (naturally found in cartilage) improves osteoarthritis in dogs, especially when combined with glucosamine.
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): This naturally-occurring organic sulfur source improves joint mobility and elasticity.
All of these ingredients are in PetHonesty’s selection of hip and joint supplements.
4. Doggy Massage
Before trying this at home, you may want to visit a certified canine massage therapist so you can learn the proper techniques for massaging your dog. Massage is a soothing and effective way to promote circulation, improve flexibility, relieve your dog's arthritis pain, and boost overall well-being. Acupressure and acupuncture are also options, although these are much more challenging to do at home.
5. Heating Pads or Cold Compresses
A heating pad can be relaxing for Rex and alleviate pain from swollen and sore joints. On the other hand, if your doggy's joints are so inflamed that they actually feel warm or hot to the touch, you may want to use a cold pack or compress to reduce the swelling and pain. As always, take note of your dog's specific situation and symptoms.
6. Comfy Bedding
It might sound obvious, but setting up a comfortable space for your dog to sleep and rest their joints is a must. Special orthopedic dog beds can offer more support and cushion for your dog's joints.
7. Pain Medications
There are two primary types of drugs that are often used to treat a dog's arthritis pain: steroidal and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Steroids such as prednisone can reduce swelling and pain, while NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen, for example) can also relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
But as with any prescription medication, they come with side effects. As such, before you resort to giving your dog drugs — either over-the-counter or prescription — try a combination of the other at-home arthritis treatments on this list.
For example, feeding your dog anti-inflammatory foods along with supplements and regular massage could improve his or her condition without the need for pharmaceuticals. Also, never give your dog any drugs from your own medicine cabinet. Just because it's safe for you doesn't mean it'll be OK for Fido. Always consult your vet first!
Help Your Precious Pet Feel Better
As a loving pet owner, you want the best for your four-legged friend. And while arthritis is a common condition for senior dogs, large breeds, and dogs with an injury, illness, or inherited predisposition, it can happen to any dog at any stage of life. Even though you cannot eliminate arthritis completely, you can make life more comfortable for your beloved canine.
Providing a nutritious diet rich in healthy fats, regular exercise at a comfortable pace, weight management, natural supplements, doggy massage, and other at-home treatments can all help. As always, consult your veterinarian before introducing any new regimen. And, check out the PetHonesty blog to discover more ways to maintain joint health for your dog.