Posted by Camille Arneberg on

Treatment for Arthritis in Dogs: A Helpful Guide

As animals age, they start to slow down, just like humans do.  They play less, walk less, and sometimes they eat less and sleep more.  While the aging process is usually the cause for these changes, a lessening in physical activity can also be a sign of arthritis in dogs, regardless of their age.  Let’s take a look at what this condition means for our canine companions and what options are available for treatment of arthritis in dogs.

Table of Contents:

  • What is Arthritis?
  • What are Symptoms of Arthritis?
  • What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?
  • How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs?
  • Other Treatment Options

 What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a medical condition that affects the joints of the body, and in its most technical definition, “arthritis” is simply a term for abnormal changes in a joint.  In both humans and dogs, the most common form of arthritis is Osteoarthritis, which causes joint deterioration.  When a dog gets Osteoarthritis, the cartilage that cushions the bones of the joints wears away, and this causes the bones to rub and grind against each other when the dog moves.  This can be painful, and is often accompanied by inflammation of the joints and surrounding areas that causes them to swell slightly. As the inflammation and swelling continues, joint mobility is further decreased, causing a cycle of damage to the joints.

What are Symptoms of Arthritis?

Because the joint deterioration makes movement painful, dogs are less likely to move around as much.  You may notice signs of arthritis like your pup playing, walking, running, and jumping less.  This is particularly because arthritis most commonly affects hip, knee, elbow, and shoulder joints in a dog’s body.  You may notice in addition to being less active, you may notice some other symptoms like:

  • Walking stiffly
  • Swollen and sore joints
  • Reluctance to be touched around swollen joints
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Loss of stamina

Even if your dog doesn’t seem to have a lot of problems with mobility, if you notice any change in their behavior or physical activity, it’s always a good idea to mention this to your veterinarian.  

What Causes Arthritis in Dogs?

There is no single cause of arthritis, and the reasons for its development can be due to many factors.  Dogs of certain breeds and sizes are predisposed to arthritis (for example, bigger dogs live with more stress on their joints due to their size and weights), and dogs that have had past damage to bones or joints have a higher chance of developing arthritis.  It is worth noting that while old age is not a cause of arthritis, it is often a factor. A lifetime of movement can cause a lot of wear on a dog’s joints.

How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis.  The best we can do for our canine friends is try treat the symptoms and effects of the condition: lessen inflammation, pain, and slow the degeneration of the joints as much as possible.  As with most conditions, there are topical and internal treatments, as well as bio-medical and natural options. The most common forms of treatment are diet-monitoring, supplements, and prescription medications.

Diet-Monitoring

Excess weight can be both a cause and an effect of arthritis.  If a dog is overweight for most of its life, this will put extra stress on their joints, increasing their risk of injury and causing early joint deterioration.  However, a dog may also gain weight as a result of moving around less if their arthritis is causing them pain. Because of this, it’s important to monitor your dog’s diet to ensure both that they’re receiving all of the necessary nutrients and staying at a healthy weight.

In addition to maintaining a healthy diet, you should continue to exercise your dog!  Not only does exercise help to raise your dog’s energy, but it will also help to prevent their joints from becoming too stiff.  Just remember that the exercise should still be within your dog’s comfort range.  If your pup seems too tired, don’t push them. For example, instead of longer walks, taking your dog for multiple shorter walks through the day is a good way to keep them active without overexerting them.  Lower-impact exercises like swimming are sometimes a good idea as well.

Supplements

Supplements are important for dogs at any stage of life, but they become increasingly important as dogs age or develop health issues like joint pain.  There are a variety of supplements that can help to reduce inflammation and slow joint deterioration resulting from arthritis.  There are some specific ingredients that you can look for in supplements that have been proven to help reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain, such as:

  • Glucosamine
  • Vitamin C
  • Turmeric

PetHonesty’s hip and joint supplements contain all three of these ingredients.

Glucosamine is an amino acid compound that is naturally found in cartilage.  When taken at the first signs, glucosamine supplements can be very helpful in slowing the progression of osteoarthritis in dogs by lessening the body’s need to produce more of the compound on its own.  It helps to strengthen the cartilage and keep it from wearing away as quickly as it might otherwise, and in some cases, it may be able to repair damaged cartilage.  Sometimes, it can be combined with other compounds, such as chondroitin sulfate (a compound found in connective tissues that make up cartilage and bone) to help also alleviate pain.  Glucosamine for dogs has also been shown to improve the weight-bearing capacity in dogs with osteoarthritis.

Vitamin C has many of the same benefits for dogs as it does for humans.  It’s a necessary vitamin that does a variety of important jobs in the body.  One of its most important functions is to help deliver nutrients through the body, and this is crucial to ensure that necessary nutrients can reach joints and bones affected by arthritis.  Vitamin C is also a component that the body needs to produce collagen.  Collagen is found in joints, skin, and other parts of the body and is responsible for things having elasticity.  Improved elasticity in joints means it’s easier for joints to move, and as osteoarthritis causes joint elasticity to decrease dramatically, boosting the body’s collagen production can help to ease movement and lessen pain.

Turmeric has been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicinal practices for centuries due to its medicinal properties.  It naturally contains many compounds and chemicals that have been shown to lessen inflammation and swelling. One of these chemicals is called curcumin, and it helps to block some of the enzymes that cause inflammation.  Because of this, turmeric is effective at preventing inflammation in addition to treating it, and can help to keep swelling from even starting around arthritic joints.  

A perk to supplements and more natural remedies is the low risk of side effects.

Prescription Medications

There are two main types of prescription medications for arthritic dogs:

  • Steroidal 
  • NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)


Both of these medications are primarily used to lessen inflammation and pain, and are generally quite effective.  However, as with any medication, you should keep a close eye on your dog to make sure they aren’t suffering from any uncomfortable or serious side effects.

Steroidal Prescriptions

Corticosteroids are the most commonly-prescribed of steroidal medications.  These use steroids to lessen swelling, boost muscle and energy, and lessen pain.  

NSAIDs

As the name states, these are natural anti-inflammatory medications that do not contain cortisol-like chemicals (aka steroids).  Aspirin is a common example of a NSAID.

*Note: Never use medicine from your own medicine cabinet on your dog!  While aspirin may be a NSAID, it is not necessarily safe for dogs. ALWAYS consult with a veterinarian before medicating your pup, and follow dosage and prescription instructions carefully.

Other Treatment Options

In some cases, other forms of treatment can help to alleviate symptoms of arthritis pain and slow the progress of the condition.  Acupuncture has been shown to have positive effects on dogs with arthritis, and chiropractic work can help to realign joints that can be damaged by your dog favoring limbs that hurt less.  Heat can relieve tension and pain from swelling and sore joints, as well as help your dog relax, so warming pads and heat packs can be very beneficial. On the other hand, if joints are so inflamed that you can feel heat radiating off of them, cool/cold packs can also be helpful in relieving pain.  Massage therapy can also help relieve some pain and swelling, and it’s something you can learn to do at home. Speaking of home, make sure your dog has a comfortable place to sleep and relax when they need to rest their joints. Special orthopedic beds provide better support and cushioning for sensitive joints.

All in all, it’s important to talk with a veterinarian about what pain relief treatments are best for your pup.  Different combinations of the treatments listed above will have the best results for your dog’s specific needs.

 

Camille Arneberg and her dog
Camille is a co-founder of PetHonesty and VP of Pup Parent Education. After watching her own family dog suffer from joint issues for years she became passionate about improving dogs' quality of life. With the help of a team of veterinarians and dog nutritionists she now helps educate other dog owners about the small but powerful things they can do to positively impact their dogs' health and wellness! She lives in Austin, TX and loves cuddling puppies, being outside and reading.