Help for dogs with arthritis and what you can do at home

By | May 6, 2016

What exactly is arthritis?


Arthritis is now the usual term for osteoarthritis, as it’s a condition that affects the bones and joints. It’s very common in dogs, with around one in five adult dogs having the condition to some degree. It’s especially common in dogs as they get older, and medium to large breeds are more susceptible due to the extra weight and stress on their joints.

But why do dogs get it?

Two causes

  1. Bad Luck – down to wear and tear over time

It is a degenerative condition meaning it can come on relatively slowly and then worsen over a long period of time. Barbecue of this it can be quite hard to see the changes in your dog, until there are very obvious symptoms to see.

It develops when the cartilage wears away from inside the joints, and the usual lubricating fluid becomes watery and thin. In layman’s terms the cartilage is a shock absorber and the synovial fluid is the oil that keeps the joint moving smoothly and freely. So, it’s quite understandable that without these two protection mechanisms, it can become a case of bone rubbing on bone – ouch! So once they fail, there is friction in the joint which leads to swelling and quite often heat in the joint.

2. Bad Luck – a dog was born to get it

Some dogs are born with genetic conditions which predispose them to getting arthritis. Many dog owners dread the dysplasia conditions –  whether it be hips, elbows or both, it’s bad news!

These dogs have differences in the structure of their joints, which are there from birth. The joint sockets are too shallow, and the ball of the joints don’t sit properly within them. It can be described as a partial dislocation, but the muscles and ligaments grow and develop around this feature, which keeps the joint “off balance”.

The X-ray below shows the hips of a Labrador Retriever puppy, where both hips are affected by dysplasia. You can clearly see the ball joints are not centered into the socket.

Hip Displaysia in a Labrador Retriever Puppy

Joelmills [CC-BY-SA-3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

As a result, the joints themselves are under a lot more pressure and stress and arthritis is likely to develop as a result. Large breed dogs are particularly prone to having dysplasia, and it’s likely there will be early lameness and pain symptoms as a result.

 

There are things that can make it worse


Winter can make arthritis worseWinter is a bit of a curse for dogs with arthritis. Damp and cold weather can increase the severity and discomfort quite a lot. Lying in a draft, or having a kennel that is exposed to wet and wind are both number one enemies.

Beware of extra weight! A dog that is overweight for it’s breed and size has extra pressure on its joints. Their joints were not designed to take the extra weight, so one of the first things a vet will look at is diet control if your dog falls into this category.

Also, the longer it takes to get treatment and get on top of it, the better it is for your dog. Especially if they need surgery – the more the joint wears away, the less options there are for repair surgery and the less chance of success.

 

How does it affect my dog?


There’s no doubt about it – arthritis is a painful condition. If left untreated, it will in fact lead to chronic pain for your dog.

There are tell-tale signs a dog is suffering with pain from arthritis, and your dog might only have one or two, or even more:

  • stiffness and difficulty getting up, particularly after a period of sleep. It’s also likely the longer the rest period, the more stiffness will be apparent.
  • reluctance to go for walks or play as much as usual. And if they do go out walking, their pace is slower than normal to the point they could even lag behind
  • it’s a struggle to climb stairs or cope with steep slopes, including jumping in and out of the car. Jumping out is even worse – think of the pressure on a painful joint when a dog jumps down from a height, their full body weight is behind the jump, and their is no cushioning in the joint – ouch again!
  • limping – can be hard to tell if more than one leg is affected and it develops slowly!
  • licking or chewing at the joint areas
  • reacting to touch – for example, a sharp yelp, or licking of the lips
  • a reduced appetite – this was our dog, and his eyes also dulled whenever the pain got too much for him. These signs were helpful, as our vet gave us additional pain medication to give on top of his daily routine, for temporary use.
  • changes in personality, which unfortunately when in pain, can manifest as aggression. Think how bad tempered you feel if you have a toothache or backache that just won’t go away.

The joints commonly affected are the hips, elbows, knees and shoulders. It can progress into the spine, but this is less common.

 

Treatment of Canine Arthritis


Osteoarthritis is not curable, but if can be successfully managed to help further progression and to relieve your dog’s pain.

Speaking from my own experience – please make sure your dog is insured, BEFORE you go and get any kind of diagnosis and/or vet treatment. If you don’t and arthritis is diagnosed, it’s likely pet insurers will exclude your dog from the policy and they won’t be covered. Arthritis is a lifelong condition, and it’s great if you can take advantage of all the options available through an insurance policy.

Next stop is the vet. It’s important to get a correct diagnosis, but also much of the pain medication is by prescription and will need to be matched to your individual dog.

Medical Options

Surgery for severe cases

It could be a scraping out of the joint, to clear build up of materials from the constant friction. This is for milder cases, but can take away a lot of discomfort and pain.

Joint replacement, which is a very common operation these days, but is still quite a big deal. It usually involves replacing both the ball and socket part of the joint, using combinations of metal and plastic substances to create a new, and very smooth, surface area. The operation itself is likely to be quite short, but the recovery time afterwards is long and there is a lot of onus on the dog owner to ensure there are no mis-haps with the new joint. For example, no stairs, or jumping in and out of cars!

Pain management with drugs

There are lots of drugs available, and some vets surmise that the options for dogs are greater then for humans!

Metacam for DogsThere are non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs for short. A very common one is Metacam, which our German Shepherd had every day of his life from about aged 2 onward. As it was a liquid, it was really easy to measure out in a plastic syringe provided and squirt onto his dinner!

There are other over the counter supplements that can also give added benefit, but also check with your vet to make sure there are no contra-indications with any prescribed diet or drugs.

Physiotherapy

Physio can also help, with exercises that can be done at home. This didn’t work well for us, as our dog had hip and elbow dysplasia and physio can’t fix the structural bone problem that is at the root of it all. However, I firmly believe that physiotherapy can really help after surgery, or if there has been muscle wastage.

Hydrotherapy

Canine Hydrotherapy

Courtesy of www.oregonlive.com

In later life we took Rocky (our German Shepherd) to Hydrotherapy. We managed to get 10 sessions on insurance, but it gave him such huge benefits we carried on with right up to the end of his life.

It definitely improved his quality of life, giving him greater mobility through better muscle strength around his hip joints. The warm water also gave him a lot of pain relief. We had to coax him in with treats the first time, but after that he couldn’t wait to get in!

Acupuncture

Canine Acupuncture

By Rhona-Mae Arca (Canine Acupuncture) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Some dogs may also benefit from this ancient Chinese procedure. It’s more about relief from the pain symptoms, rather than improving the structural problem. Some insurance companies allow it, and for others it’s still viewed as an alternative therapy and is not covers.

Is there anything I can do for my dog?


Yes, there is!

There are lots of things you can do to help your dog at home as well.

  1. Diet & supplements

Your vet may have prescribed a diet, either for weight control or to help with the arthritis. If not, you can keep an eye on their body weight and condition yourself over time. As mentioned above, there are dietary supplements that are known to help, but check with your vet first.

2. Get an orthopedic bed

Good, quality bedding is a huge must for arthritic dogs. The more support their joints can have while they are resting or sleeping, the better it is for them. A good bed can help reduce stiffness and pain, through proper support. Keep it out of any drafts in your house as well.

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Heavy-Duty Orthopedic Dog Bed

 

Equally important if they lay down outside, is considering where they do that. It’s not so bad if it’s a warm day, but if the ground is damp or cold, a raised bed is a good idea. This prevents the cold from seeping up into their bones from underneath.

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3. Adjust your dog’s exercise regime

It’s a balancing act with an arthritic dog. If they do too much, the symptoms can flare up – for example, an obvious period of lameness, which will increase the pain as well. If they don’t do enough, joint stiffness can set in or over time, muscle wastage can occur.

Gentle and regular exercise is keyThink of the expression “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” – which applies perfectly to your dog’s muscles in this case.

Therefore, they need gentle exercise on a regular basis. Your vet will be able to give you guidance on this as well, so be sure to ask. It may be suggested you walk them on a short leash to help.

4. Watch slippy floors

There is nothing worse than wrenching an already sore joint, through an accidental trip or slip. Laminate flooring can be tricky for some dogs, so consider non-slip rugs if your dog is slipping on your floors.

5. Avoid stairs, jumping into cars – if possible!

If they are struggling with the stairs or getting in and out of the car, then try and minimize what they do on their own. It’s realistic you won’t stop it all the time – especially if you have a big dog! Sometimes their excitement takes over and they temporarily forget it might hurt, and do it anyway. But if you can carry them, or keep them downstairs at night, it will benefit them in the long run.

6. Heated pads for winter

This is really nice for sore joints, especially for older dogs and in the winter time. It could be used on top of the bed, or disguised inside the bed lining if they like their existing bed the way it is!

Lectro-soft heated Dog Pad


Are you already dealing with a dog that has arthritis? If so, it would be great to know what sort of things you do to help. Or perhaps to share your feedback on pet insurance for arthritis, or a particular supplement.

Please leave a comment below – it’s sure to help other dog owners out there 🙂

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24 thoughts on “Help for dogs with arthritis and what you can do at home

  1. Angie

    I have a large Riesen Schnauzer dog and at some point we lived in a very cold area in Russia. The winters there can easily reach -30 to -40 degrees, which wasn’t easy for all of us and our pets. Luckily my dog didn’t suffer with arthritis, however at some point she started loosing her fur and was getting bold spots – but it was the malnutrition that caused it. In the end we moved away to a warmer and healthier place. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Angie,

      Boy, reading about those temperatures almost has me shivering! I’m glad you got to the bottom of the bald patches, and it’s amazing how food plays such an important role in the lives of our pets. I’m happy to hear you are all living in a warmer place now! Thanks for sharing your experiences here, and please do visit again. Mara

      Reply
  2. Darren

    It’s sad seeing your beloved dog get older and start to struggle with their health and especially arthritis. They age far too quickly.

    You have written a very in-depth and meaningful post here on arthritis in dogs and I can totally relate to it. You have offered up some truly helpful tips and advice, and I think the use of supplements certainly helps to improve your dog’s quality of life.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Darren,

      Thanks for reading this and I appreciate you taking by the time to share your feedback. I thought so many dog owners can relate to this, given arthritis is quite a common condition in dogs and I hope they find some practical advantages here. All the best to you.

      Mar

      Reply
  3. Kristin

    I really love your ideas here. I have an almost 10 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and I’ve sadly seen him slowing down and have been concerned about arthritis. Dogs are amazing and resilient but since they can’t speak up and tell us where and what hurts, it is up to us to be responsible pet owners and help them any way we can. I will definitely be purchasing some of these products to keep him comfortable as he ages. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to more good information.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Kristin,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Having been through this ourselves, I know it’s hard to see your buddy slowing down a bit. We only want what’s best for them, so I’m glad you found this helpful. Check out my article on joint supplements too – we found they also really helped our dog’s comfort levels.

      All the best, Mara.

      Reply
  4. Jaime

    Such a sad occurrence when our four legged friends get sick. I find it moving that you did so much research and took so much time to put all of this together to try to help them. Most dogs are as part of people’s families as their own children. Because of this, they should be treated as such.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Jaime,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading this. I do aim to get as much information as I can to help other dog owners, so I’m really pleased to hear you think this has come across. Dogs are definitely part of the family!

      All the best, Mara.

      Reply
  5. Rosered

    My dog is getting up there in age and has been having some arthritic problems himself. I’ve tried a few different things but have yet to find something that really works for him. Coming across your website was so fortunate for me because I hadn’t thought of acupuncture for dogs. Your right the winter seems to be the worst to me for him and next trip to the store I’ll be getting him a heating pad. Thanks for the great ideas I’m feeling hopeful.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi there and thanks for taking the time to share your own experiences. I’m glad you’ve found some ideas from my site. Winter was always worst for our Shepherd too, especially when it was cold and damp at the same time. I hope the heating pad helps. Mara

      Reply
  6. Irma

    I am currently going through everything you mentioned. My dog takes natural pills for hip & joints. He has his orthopedic bed; however he puts half of his body in the bed and half on the floor ,lol. I take him out to walks. I admit I have to do it more often though. Very good article.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Thanks Irma,

      I know from our own experiences that it is not easy looking after a dog with arthritis – but because we love them so much we do everything we can. Don’t worry about your dog lying half on the bed and half off – if it was uncomfortable he wouldn’t do it. It must be a good position for him. Thank you for your positive feedback on the article.

      Mara.

      Reply
  7. Lauren Kinghorn

    Wow, Mara, excellent article! I wish I had access to all this advice when Major, our beautiful labrador cross boerboel was suffering from arthritis and hip displasia. Towards the end, he had all the symptoms you describe, including the personality changes, and it broke my heart.
    The orthopaedic bed and heated pads for Winter sound amazing, I can imagine it must relieve the pain considerably.
    I’m glad you mentioned supplements as well. I’ve seen brilliant results for arthritis, especially for dogs and horses, with a product called STEMPET. Have you come across it?

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Lauren,

      Thanks for reading this and taking the time to share your own thoughts and experiences. It is a difficult time when you can see your pets suffering. I haven’t come across Stempet, but I will make a point of researching this since you have experienced positive results. I may even write a separate article about it! I appreciate you mentioning it, and it’s always great to get this type of information first hand from my readers.

      Best wishes, Mara.

      Reply
  8. Chris

    Had trouble with a dog my partner had having arthritis a few years ago so know how debilitating and horrible this kind of thing is. Wish I had known about this site back then as we were offered no help by our vet other than to say there was nothing he could do unless we were able to find 10’s of thousands of pounds. This would have at least helped us to make the little one more comfortable!

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Aw Chris, that’s a real shame. Most vets I know are only to happy to help and give people advice for affordable options. It is a horrible affliction for dogs, and like you say it doesn’t take much to make a bit of a difference to their comfort. Thanks for sharing your feedback – I really appreciate it.

      Mara

      Reply
  9. Simone

    My sister just found out that one of her dogs has arthritis. The vet told her to try and avoid medication for now as it is not that severe (yet).

    I am going to show her the information in your article because it sounds like her dogs vet wasn’t all that helpful. Just said it’s common with dogs and will get worse as the dog gets older (at which point they will discuss medication).

    If she starts using some of the tips you provided, can it help the arthritis from getting worse?

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Simone,

      That’s a great question. Yes, these tips can definitely help slow down the progression of arthritis and make your dog more comfortable. It won’t stop it getting worse over time, but it can make a big difference. Particularly a good bed! It’s a great idea to show your sister – there’s a common theme running here that some vets aren’t perhaps taking the time to discuss what you can do yourselves to help your dogs. If medication is not warranted yet, there are still things that can minimize the pain a dog is in meantime.

      Thanks for sharing and I hope your sisters dog get’s on OK.

      All the best to you all, Mara 🙂

      Reply
  10. Marta

    Hi Mara, thanks for this article, it’s very informative. I didn’t know that arthritis was such a common issue and that it affected dogs the same as humans. My last dog died of heart problems, poor thing… Acupuncture for dogs is yet another discovery! 🙂 I have never heard of such a service before.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Marta,
      Thank you for reading and I’m glad you learnt some new things from this article. So sorry to hear that your dog had heart problems. Losing a dog is always difficult, so thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.
      All the best to you, Mara.

      Reply
  11. lifebeginswithyourhealth

    Very informative article on dogs and arthritis- it seems our dogs are able to get almost anything we get with health problems. We do not think about our dogs suffering from arthritis as they age, they do not always show their pain and discomfort as we do.

    The heated bed or a heated pad sounds like a very good product to get for your dog suffering from arthritis- I never thought about there being such products available for our dogs until reading your article.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi and thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Heat can in fact give a lot of relief for painful joints and is a good idea for canines suffering with arthritis – especially those that are living in a climate that is cold and damp at times. I’m glad you learned something new and if you have any questions, just let me know.

      Mara 🙂

      Reply
  12. Angleblade

    Hi Mara
    I did not know there was so much to dog arthritic issues and I had not heard of dog acupuncture. I have an old terrier who is finding it hard to walk now so I will be following your advice and purchasing an orthopedic bed for scruffy.
    Thanks for the great info
    Simon

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Simon,

      Thanks for stopping by to read this. Canine acupuncture is definitely growing in popularity – some swear by it and others don’t see much of a difference, but I guess if you’ve tried everything else it’s worth consideration. I hope you find a good bed for Scruffy – love the name 🙂

      All the best, and pats to Scruffy, Mara.

      Reply

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