What Do Vets Recommend for Dogs with Arthritis?

Your dog’s life is a journey – one you’ve probably enjoyed sharing with him, even though it’s tough to watch him get older. As your dog reaches his golden years, you may notice that he has developed some arthritis. Arthritis is a very common condition in senior pets. More than just getting older, arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that results in chronic pain and loss of mobility. Although this condition is progressive, there are steps you can take to relieve your dog’s arthritis pain so you can continue to enjoy your journey together at full speed.

Symptoms of Canine Arthritis

Arthritis often comes on gradually and may not be obvious at first. But it is important to be on the lookout for the early signs of this disease in your senior pet to prevent any undue suffering. Your dog may not be crying or limping, but that doesn’t mean he is not in pain. Other subtle symptoms, like tiring more easily or a reluctance to engage in certain activities can also be signs that your pup is feeling some discomfort. Other common symptoms of arthritis in dogs can include:

small dog wheelchair for inside the house
  • Hesitancy to jump, lay down, or get up
  • Stiff or abnormal gait
  • Lameness
  • Swollen or painful joints
  • Irritability
  • Resting more
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Difficulty jumping or climbing stairs
  • Hiding or reluctance to interact with family

If you notice these changes in your dog, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. Your veterinarian will perform a full head to tail physical examination, including feeling your dog’s joints and assessing their full range of motion. Your veterinarian may also recommend taking radiographs, also known as x-rays, of any joints that he or she finds particularly concerning.  These images will allow your veterinarian to evaluate the degenerative changes in the joint, which will help guide the treatment plan for your dog.

Medications to Relieve Dog Arthritis Pain

Pain control medications are the mainstay of arthritis treatment in dogs. But before you go looking in your medicine cabinet, it is very important to remember that you should never give your dog any over the counter medication or any medication not specifically prescribed by your veterinarian. Although it can be hard to see your dog in pain, giving him a medication not prescribed for him can be very dangerous.  Many human medications are toxic to dogs, so always consult your veterinarian prior to giving your dog any new medication or supplement.

The most common medications used to treat canine arthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These medications reduce inflammation in the affected joints, alleviating pain and improving mobility. Some dogs may take these medications only as needed, while others may need to rely on them daily long term to stay pain free. Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition, other medications such as amantadine, gabapentin, tramadol, or opioids may also be used to manage arthritis pain and improve your dog’s quality of life.

Because medications like NSAIDs can affect the liver and kidneys when used long term, your vet may recommend checking your pet’s blood work regularly to monitor the function of these vital organs. Regular follow ups with your veterinarian may also be necessary to monitor your dog’s response to treatment and to adjust the treatment plan as needed.

Supplements for Dog Arthritis

wheelchair dog rehabilitation

In addition to medication, supplements for arthritis can be a useful part of your dog’s treatment plan.  Joint supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin work by improving lubrication in the joints and strengthening the cartilage that cushions the joint, thereby improving mobility and slowing the progression of arthritis.  Other supplements, such as fatty acids, may have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the swelling and pain associated with arthritic joints, relieving your dog’s discomfort.  

Recently, CBD for dogs has garnered a lot of attention as a possible treatment for canine arthritis pain.  CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system, which has a number of functions throughout the body.  Because the endocannabinoid system plays a role in conditions such as chronic pain, inflammation, stress, and bone remodeling, it has been hypothesized that products such as CBD could potentially be beneficial to patients suffering from arthritis.  In fact, a recent double-blinded, placebo-controlled study in dogs found that CBD significantly improved pain and mobility in just 4 weeks with no detrimental effects.  Research on CBD’s use and effect in animals is still very much in its infancy and more information is needed to determine the best dosage and duration of treatment.  However, recent research has been encouraging and similar studies have also demonstrated the beneficial effects of CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties in arthritic patients.

Diet to Relieve Arthritis Pain

They say you are what you eat, so your dog should always be healthy, lean, and active! The best way to prevent arthritis and relieve arthritis pain is by ensuring your dog maintains a healthy lean body weight.  Even a few extra pounds can put a lot of extra pressure on an arthritic dog’s inflamed joints, and that really hurts! Helping your dog lose that weight in a safe and gradual way can make a big difference in your dog’s pain level. A calorie restricted diet and low impact exercise such as walking or swimming can help your dog shed the extra pounds without aggravating those arthritic joints. Your veterinarian can help you establish a foolproof weight loss plan tailored to your dog’s individual needs.

Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy

Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy is a relatively new field within veterinary medicine. Rehabilitation therapy focuses on managing chronic pain and mobility issues such as those caused by arthritis and other musculoskeletal or neurologic conditions.  Professionals who practice rehabilitation use many different therapies to help your pet lose weight, improve range of motion, and build strength, as well as alleviating pain and inflammation. Some of the commonly used therapies in veterinary rehabilitation include:

  • Therapeutic exercise, such as underwater treadmill
  • Massage
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Therapeutic ultrasound
  • Acupuncture
  • Spinal Manipulative Therapy
  • Regenerative medicine
  • Therapeutic laser
  • Physical therapy
  • And many more!

Many arthritic patients can benefit from these rehabilitation therapies.  To find a rehabilitation professional in your area, check out www.rehabvets.org or ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

Canine Arthritis: A Speed Bump, Not a Stop Sign

Although it can be hard to hear that your four legged friend has arthritis, it is important to remember that this condition can be managed.  With your veterinarian’s help, your dog can still have an excellent quality of life.  To relieve your dog’s arthritis pain, it is essential to work with your veterinarian to develop a multimodal treatment plan that incorporates both medications and lifestyle changes. Frequent follow up visits with your veterinarian may also be necessary to monitor the progression of your dog’s arthritis and adjust the treatment plan if necessary.  Together you and your veterinary team can ensure that your pup will continue to be healthy

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal veterinarian with a passion for improving the lives of pets. She has worked in the veterinary field in various roles for more than a decade. Dr. Racine’s professional interests in behavior, nutrition, and palliative care. As a writer, her work has been featured by several world-renowned pet health and wellness brands. Dr. Racine shares her home with her dog Dasher – a beagle with his own storied career training new veterinary students – and her trouble-making orange cat named Julius

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2 Comments

  1. Very informative article! I learned a bunch about how to best approach my dog’s arthritis. Thank you for publishing!

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