Arthritis is very common in dogs. Joint injuries, like cruciate ligament rupture, or developmental disorders, for example hip dysplasia, increase the risk that a dog will have early or severe arthritis, but sometimes arthritis just develops with age.
Whatever leads to a dog’s arthritis, owners now have access to many safe and effective options for treatment.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
Arthritis symptoms differ based on the location and severity of the disease, but most dogs show a combination of the following symptoms:
- Stiffness, especially after rest
- Reluctance to be active
- Loss of muscle mass
- Reacting painfully when touched
- Having trouble getting comfortable when resting
- Difficulty climbing stairs or jumping
Of course, these symptoms can be associated with diseases other than arthritis, so it’s important that dogs see a veterinarian before arthritis treatment begins.
10 Steps for Treating Arthritis in Dogs
There is no magic bullet for treating arthritis in dogs. Some individuals respond well to one therapy, while the same thing may be ineffective for another dog with similar symptoms. Here are ten treatments that help many dogs with arthritis:
Encouraging weight loss is one of the most effective ways to relieve arthritis symptoms in overweight pets. A diet dog food that contains adequate amounts of protein can promote weight loss while also helping dogs retain the muscle mass needed to support their joints. Reducing body fat also helps limit joint stress and inflammation throughout the body.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) have long been the mainstay of treating arthritis in dogs. They work by decreasing joint inflammation and reducing pain, both of which encourage dogs to be more active while keeping them comfortable. Examples of NSAIDs designed specifically for dogs include carprofen, deracoxib, etodolac, and meloxicam.
If a dog’s discomfort can’t be well-controlled with an NSAID or if NSAID-related side effects are a concern, veterinarians can prescribe other types of medications to control pain. Options include grapiprant, acetaminophen, tramadol, amantadine, and gabapentin.
A variety of nutritional supplements are given to arthritic dogs to protect and heal joint cartilage, improve joint fluid, and reduce joint inflammation. Glucosamine, chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants all have scientific evidence to back up their use. Products like Glycoflex®, Dasuquin®, and Cosequin®, which contain several of these ingredients, tend to work best.
Exercise strengthens muscles, improves flexibility, and helps with weight management. Leash walks on even ground are a good place to start, but a specifically tailored physical therapy program is often a more effective option.
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of health conditions and can be very helpful for arthritic dogs. Acupuncture is thought to work, in part, by easing muscle tension and encouraging the body to release natural pain relievers called endorphins.
Anyone who has had a massage knows that these treatments can help with muscle pain, stiffness, and range-of-motion, but does massage have a role in arthritis treatment? Scientific evidence is mounting that massage may reduce inflammation and the production of stress hormones and neurotransmitters associated with arthritis and pain.
Low-level (cold) laser therapy is becoming increasingly popular for treating arthritis. While its exact mechanisms of action are unclear, it is thought that the energy delivered by laser light to tissues helps cells repair themselves and promotes healing while also reducing inflammation and pain.
In some cases, the pain and dysfunction caused by arthritis becomes so bad that the best option for treatment is joint surgery. The specific type of surgery depends on which joint is affected and other specifics of the dog’s case. For example, larger dogs with severe hip arthritis may need a hip replacement while smaller dogs can do well with a surgery that removes part of the hip joint.
Research continues to expand the treatments available for dogs with arthritis. One promising option is stem cell or regenerative therapy. Injecting stem cells into an arthritic joint may reduce pain and inflammation and help tissues repair themselves.
Working together, owners and veterinarians can determine which combination of therapies has the best chance of working for a particular dog.