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Caring for Dogs With Arthritis

Written by FOTP Team

Last updated

older dog

Giving Your Dog a Comfortable Life: How To Care for Dogs With Arthritis

Watching your furry best friend have trouble getting off the floor can fill you with dread. You may question what you did wrong or if he'll feel better again, and finding out that your dog has arthritis may come as a shock. Of course you want your pet to live a happy, healthy life without pain and discomfort. Osteoarthritis can affect about one in five dogs, but with the proper treatment, they do not have to live unhappy or pained lives. Find out how to care for dogs with arthritis.

What Is Arthritis?

Most arthritic dogs have osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease. In healthy joints, cartilage serves as a cushion to give a smooth full range of motion. However, when a human or animal has arthritis, this cartilage begins to break down. Generally, dogs develop osteoarthritis because of injury, age, disease or repetitive stress and movement. As cartilage breaks down, it leads to pain and inflammation in their joints. Generally, the condition affects the lower spine and limbs.

Which Dogs Are Prone to Arthritis?

While many dog breeds can suffer from arthritis, some may be more prone to the condition. Both genetics and age can contribute to the development of the disease. Canines with injuries or malformed joints have a higher chance of developing arthritis.

For example, conditions like hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia pressure the bones because the joints grow incorrectly. Sometimes, dogs may develop arthritis because of injuries caused by over-exerting young puppies. Like humans, athletic animals need to warm up and cool down before and after a workout. Without the proper warmups, injuries are more likely.

Before a year old, your dog's bones are still forming. Most canines do not need more than an hour of moderate exercise every day until they reach a year old. Young working dogs should train in short bursts to avoid developing arthritis.

The most common dogs with arthritis include the following breeds:

  • German shepherds
  • Bernese mountain dogs
  • Labradors
  • Golden retrievers
  • Springer spaniels
  • Rottweilers

There are various tell-tale signs for at-risk dogs that they may suffer from arthritic joints.

What Signs Do Dogs With Arthritis Exhibit?

Sometimes, it's challenging to detect arthritis in the early stages. Some dogs hide their pain or act stoic in mild to severe cases. If you have a middle-aged or senior animal that may have a predisposition for osteoarthritis, you should look for different signs.

Arthritis is generally indicated by more than just running out of energy faster than a puppy. Is your dog suddenly reluctant to engage in play? Does he hesitate before jumping or running? Arthritic animals may have difficulty standing and appear stiff. Watch out for uncharacteristic lethargy or muscle loss.

Behavioral changes are also common with arthritis. Keep in mind that dogs with arthritis experience frequent bouts of pain. Anyone hurting is likely to be a little irritable or resistant to being petted or touched.

How Can You Treat Dogs With Arthritis?

Be gentle and patient with your arthritic dog. He needs your help to remain comfortable and healthy with this diagnosis. There is no current cure for osteoarthritis, but treatment can slow the progression and keep your pet comfortable.

For dogs with more severe cases, you may need to offer assistance regularly. If you have a two-story house, your pet may require you to help him make it up and down the stairs. Take a rolled-up towel or blanket and create a sling under the animal's chest or abdomen. The makeshift sling can help you assist your dog up and down steep steps. There are also mobility harnesses that help canines remain mobile after losing the use of their front or hind legs. 

Use Joint Supplements

Joint supplements can help encourage easier movement and cartilage strength. Our joint and mobility support supplements support healthy joint function throughout your dog's life. We utilize glucosamine and chondroitin for joint function, along with collagen and curcumin, to control your pup's inflammatory response. You don't have to wait until your pet has arthritis to start on joint supplements, either. For breeds prone to joint issues, supplementing early can help prevent later discomfort and pain. Likewise, dogs with arthritis benefit from supplements.

Manage Your Dog's Weight

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight helps in all aspects of your pup's life. An active lifestyle is essential for the well-being of humans and animals alike. Moreover, for canines with arthritis, excess weight also speeds up the breakdown of cartilage and can increase their overall pain. Likewise, overweight and obese dogs have a higher likelihood of developing osteoarthritis.

To manage your dog's weight, consider natural, healthy dog foods. Check the bag's label for instructions on how much to feed your furry friend based on his size, weight and age. Additionally, developing an exercise plan can help you keep him healthy.

Try NSAIDs for Pain Management

Pain control is critical in arthritis treatment. The most common medications used are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs alleviate inflammation in the joints and reduce pain. Before you start NSAID therapy, however, check with your veterinarian. Dogs with kidney or liver problems may be unable to take this medication. During treatment, dogs with arthritis need regular blood tests to ensure proper organ function.

Invest in a Good Dog Bed

How important is your bed to a good night's sleep? Even humans know what it's like to sleep on an uncomfortable bed and wake up with aches and pains. Dogs living with arthritis need the same consideration you give yourself at night. Your pup may have difficulty sleeping because of his flat, lumpy or old bed.

While some animals need little more than a blanket on the ground, a dog with arthritis needs something softer and more comfortable. Look for orthopedic foam beds with at least 4 inches of thickness. Your pet should have enough room to stretch out on the bed completely. Dogs with arthritis may have difficulty getting in and out of elevated beds. In the winter, consider a heated bed. Not only will your pooch be warm and comfy, but the heat can soothe aching joints.

Cover Hard Floors

Canines have a more difficult time walking on hard floors. As they age, they may lose muscle mass or lose the ability to gain traction on laminate, hardwood or other slick floors. Carpet, rugs, yoga mats, rubber runners or foam mats can make it easier for dogs to gain footing.

If you have hardwood stairs, consider carpeting. If your dog slips on the stairs, it can cause severe injuries and exacerbate his arthritis. Some dogs may benefit from special booties or socks that have grippy bottoms. However, don't expect all canines to accept booties.

Get Regular Nail Trims

Trimming nails on a regular basis keeps dogs from experiencing pain while walking. Long nails also make it more difficult for animals to gain traction on the ground, making it harder for your pet to stay mobile and possibly increasing the pain in his joints. You can trim your dog's nails yourself or have a vet or groomer perform the task.

How Can You Keep Dogs With Arthritis Active?

When your pet can't be as active as he used to be, you may feel at a loss for what to do next. This is especially true with athletic dogs who used to run agility courses or accompany their humans on hikes through the mountains. Suddenly, you can't engage in the physical activities you used to. However, this doesn't mean that your dog can't still be active. It is healthier for canines to continue to exercise to keep muscles and joints strong.

Take your time figuring out what your pup enjoys. Both of you have to adapt to an aging animal's new limits.

Go Swimming

If your dog loves to swim, he doesn't have to give it up. Swimming is a low-impact exercise that benefits both humans and canines with joint problems. The ability to float takes the pressure off of the muscles and joints. You can add games to your swimming session, too. Many dogs love to play fetch in the water.

However, do not try to swim with your dog if he hates water. Animals that don't like to swim may panic when you bring them into a pool. If your dog panics, he will struggle harder to get out of the water and may hurt himself in the process. For canines that don’t want to swim, you can always try to bring them to a shallow lake or pond. Some dogs appreciate walking through shallow water even if they would rather forego swimming.

Stroll Gently

Dogs with arthritis can still take walks. While he may not be able to run through the woods or hike up mountains, your pooch still needs exercise and mental stimulation. Try to go for gentle, quiet walks. During your walk, allow your pet to stop and sniff whenever necessary. Keep in mind that he may need regular breaks to rest.

At the start, keep your walks under 10 minutes, but you may be able to gradually increase the time you spend outdoors every week. As your dog regains strength, he may be able to walk longer distances. If your animal shows signs of pain or starts limping, stop the walk immediately. You may need to consult with your vet on how much physical activity your pet can take.

Try Underwater Treadmills

You aren't alone if you've never heard of an underwater treadmill. While most people aren't going to have this specialty equipment in their homes, they are incredibly useful for exercising dogs with joint and mobility issues. Talk to your veterinarian or a canine physical therapist to find an underwater treadmill you can access for your pet.

Essentially, an underwater treadmill is filled with water-based on your dog's exercise needs and height. The water adds resistance and buoyancy to the walk. Buoyancy allows your dog's body to float while he walks underwater. This relieves the pressure on his joints. Also, using warm water helps alleviate some of the joint pain caused by arthritis.

Provide Enrichment Exercises

All pets, including dogs with arthritis, need regular enrichment activities that allow them to do what they do best. All animals have innate behaviors, like smelling, chewing, hunting and playing. Canines need emotional, physical and mental stimulation to be happy and satisfied. If your pet is having trouble with mobility, there are still enrichment activities you can help him engage in.

For example, your dog may enjoy treat puzzles. You can even make simple puzzles yourself out of items around the house. If you have a muffin tin and some tennis balls, you can put treats or kibble into the container and place the balls on top. Your dog must use his nose or paws to find the food beneath the toys. Snuffle mats also allow canines to forage for kibble or treats using their sense of smell. Any nose game where your dog has to sniff out treats or other items can be fun while not putting extra stress on his joints - check out Pinterest or TikTok for more ideas. 

Keep Your Dog Feeling Healthy and Happy

At Front of the Pack, we want all dogs to live a happy, healthy life alongside their favorite humans. Arthritis may be an intimidating diagnosis, but it doesn't have to mean the end of your activities together. Supplying your pet with healthy food, supplements and appropriate exercise can increase his comfort and happiness.

We love dogs as much as you do. On our team, we have animal lovers, vets and biochemists. We wholeheartedly believe dogs with arthritis deserve to have the best life possible. Learn more about how we are raising the standards on food and supplements for man's best friend.