How to Help an Older Dog with Arthritis

As dogs age, they become prone to various diseases and ailments. Arthritis is one of the most common conditions in aging dogs. This leads to decreased mobility, less activity, stiff and painful joints and a general decrease in activities that the dog normally enjoyed enthusiastically.

Arthritis in dogs is a general term and is also known as osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD). Although most dog owners have heard of arthritis, what is it? What can a dog owner do to help an older dog with arthritis?

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition involving the breakdown and thinning of cartilage in the joints, the formation of bone spurs, the accumulation of joint fluid (effusion), and the thickening or scarring of connective tissue. It is a degenerative, progressive and irreversible disease of the joints which causes a reduction in the mobility of the joints as well as pain.

The prevalence of arthritis in dogs varies, but it has been reported to affect up to 80% of dogs over the age of 8 in North America. Canine Arthritis Resources and Education, CARE, suggests arthritis affects 1 in 5 dogs and is the most common cause of chronic pain, eventually leading to euthanasia.

Arthritis can be caused by the normal aging process resulting from years of normal wear and tear on the joints. This is especially common in large breeds, sporting dogs, and obese dogs. Arthritis can also occur as a result of joint trauma or injury, excessive force, joint wear or tear, joint misalignment, and congenital orthopedic conditions. Arthritis can be seen in all ages, breeds, and genders of dogs, but is most commonly seen in aging large breed dogs. Two common conditions that predispose dogs to arthritis are elbow and hip dysplasia.

How to help an older dog with arthritis

Older dog resting on a dog bed

1. Know the signs of arthritis

Clinical signs and symptoms of arthritis may vary depending on the stage of joint disease. Generally, you will see signs such as:

  • Lameness or lameness – this indicates pain in a limb or joint.
  • Muscle loss or atrophy – this indicates decreased use of the leg.
  • Joint swelling – due to a buildup of joint fluid, called an effusion.
  • Reduced mobility – may be seen as less activity than normal, walking instead of running and slowing down.
  • Difficulty getting up or lying down – dogs may be slow to get up after lying down, slow to get down, stiff and sore after getting up, or have difficulty getting up on their own.

2. Consult your veterinarian

If you are concerned that your dog is showing signs of pain or discomfort and you suspect arthritis, it is important to take your dog to see your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will perform a physical and orthopedic exam and run tests such as radiographs (x-rays) to confirm a diagnosis of arthritis. There are many treatment options for arthritis in dogs, but your veterinarian is essential in providing treatment and management plans. He or she will make recommendations based on what is most appropriate for your dog.

3. Provide pain management

Pain management is an extremely important part of helping a dog with arthritis. It is important to manage pain under the guidance of your veterinarian. Do not give your dog over-the-counter pain relievers or medications intended for humans unless your veterinarian has prescribed them. These can be harmful and even toxic to your dog. A veterinarian will often choose a multimodal approach to managing your dog’s pain. This means that several different tactics will be used.

  • Adequate injections – Adequan is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan that helps control cartilage loss, lubricates and decreases joint inflammation.
  • NSAIDs – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs relieve pain and inflammation. It is important to note that you only give these medications under the direction of your veterinarian, as side effects may include kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, ulcers, or inappetence. Here are some examples :

    • Carprofen (Rimadyl)
    • Meloxicam (Metacam)
    • Deracoxib (Deramaxx)
    • Firocoxib (Previcox)
    • Grapiprant (Galliprant)
  • pain medication – Other types of painkillers your vet may prescribe include:

    • Gabapentin
    • Tramadol
    • opioids
  • Stem cell therapy – Stem cell therapy is a type of regenerative medicine that allows the body to repair and heal itself.
  • Operation – In some cases, surgery may be recommended to help heal and repair the joint.

4. Provide Supplements

Joint supplements help support and protect cartilage and slow the process of arthritis. These can include ingredients such as:

  • Glucosamine Hydrochloride – A building block of cartilage and helps cartilage cells grow.
  • Chondroitin Sulfate – Helps block enzymes that destroy cartilage.
  • Fish Oil – Provides important omega-3 fatty acids that decrease inflammation.
  • Boswellia serrata – A tree extract with effects similar to NSAIDs.
  • Avocado Soy Unsaponifiables (ASU) – Protects cartilage.

5. Make environmental and lifestyle changes

Because a dog with arthritis will have difficulty getting around, getting on and off, offer him help around the house.

  • Orthopedic dog beds – A comfortable bed to lie on that will support and protect the joints will make for a good nap or a good night’s sleep.
  • Dog Ramps – Use dog ramps to help your dog get onto the couch, bed, into the vehicle, and even up and down small stairs to get out.
  • Non-slip surfaces – Provide non-slip surfaces, especially in areas where your dog spends the most time. Hard floors are slippery and difficult for the dog to stand up and feel stable when walking. Use carpet, non-slip mats, floor mats or gym tiles or yoga mats for better grip.
  • Block the stairs – Restrict access around the stairs. You don’t want your dog to fall down the stairs or have trouble using them. Make sure that when they use stairs you help support and stabilize them.
  • Raised food and water bowls – If your dog suffers from arthritis or pain in the neck or shoulders, a raised bowl can help relieve these joints. Place the bowls on a stepladder, homemade platform, or find a raised set.
  • Cut your dog’s claws – Regular nail trimming or trimming is important to keep nails short and help with mobility.
  • Be eye-catching – Utilize toe grips and paw pad friction support to help your dog have a better grip on hard surfaces.
  • Other assistive devices – Harnesses such as the Help ‘Em Up Harness or Ginger Lead are great for providing extra support and helping relieve sore joints.

6. Alternative therapies

There are many fantastic alternative therapies that are becoming more readily available to pets. Ask your veterinarian if they provide these integration services or if they know of a veterinarian who does.

  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture is a treatment where special needles are inserted into specific points on the body to stimulate pain relief and healing.
  • Cold laser therapy – Cold laser therapy is a non-invasive way to encourage healing, relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Massage – Who doesn’t love a good massage when their joints are sore?
  • hydrotherapy – This method of exercise and therapy involves a swimming pool or underwater treadmill to encourage joint mobility, weight loss, and exercise while relieving sore joints.

7. Regular controlled exercise

Dogs with arthritis are generally less active. A less active dog is prone to stiffness, pain and weight gain. Help your dog stay active by providing physical therapy, range of motion exercises, controlled exercises, assisted exercises, and hydrotherapy. Be sure to avoid the heat and don’t push a dog in pain.

8. Diet

Diet is a very important part of managing an arthritis dog’s care. Obesity is a major concern for dogs in general and a bigger concern if the dog has arthritis. Excessive weight is extremely hard on already sore joints. Try to keep your dog at a lean body weight.

  • Weight Loss Diet – Use a weight loss or weight management diet for dogs prone to obesity. Make sure it is a complete and balanced food.
  • Limit Calories – In addition to dieting, limit sweets and table scraps, as these can easily lead to weight gain.
  • Some diets are formulated specifically with joint health and weight management in mind, such as:

Hopefully these suggestions will help your senior dog with arthritis. Remember to work closely with your veterinarian to find a multimodal approach to managing arthritis.

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