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Relieving Arthritis
Strategies for relieving your dog's arthritis pain


The easy run becomes a stiff walk; the jump to a favorite chair is no longer possible; lying down is accompanied by a deep groan. As our dogs age, things that were once second nature become an effort. Today, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and companion animal care, many dogs are living to a ripe old age. On the downside, that longevity also increases the odds that they’ll suffer from some form of degenerative joint disease (DJD), or osteoarthritis. There are several types of canine arthritis, but in this article, we’ll address the most common, the age-related degenerative form.


As dogs get older, the cartilage surfaces of their joints begin to thin, and cartilage cells die. When the cells die, they release enzymes that cause inflammation of the joint capsule and release of excessive joint f luid. Extra bony growths (osteophytes) can develop. With severe cartilage thinning, the normal joint space narrows and the bone beneath the cartilage deteriorates. All of these processes set in motion further changes in the normal functioning of the dog’s joint, and an ongoing spiral of pain, lameness, limb disuse/inactivity and muscle atrophy sets in. Many of these changes may be seen on X-rays.


On physical exam, veterinarians rely on a dog’s pain response to joint palpation, detection of crepitus (a crackling or grating sensation felt within the joint), observation of gait and the presence of muscle atrophy to diagnose osteoarthritis. Not all dogs—even those with significant DJD—vocalize when they’re in pain, but a dog whose muscles are atrophied and limbs are stiff, who requires assistance to rise, and does little more than teeter outside to go to the bathroom is without question suffering pain.


DJD isn’t the only reason for a decrease in a dog’s normal activity level, weakness or reluctance to move, so other conditions that could be causing or contributing to this change need to be ruled out. Among the entries on a lengthy list are infectious and metabolic illnesses, cardiac conditions, cancer (particularly bone cancer), anemia, and endocrine conditions such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. In an ideal world, all dogs would start life with genetically sound conformation and joints. For purebreds, the importance of responsible breeding and the use of OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certifi cation or other screening tests to evaluate hip and elbow conformation of prospective breeding animals cannot be overstated. Regardless of a dog’s origins, feeding her a high-quality diet throughout life and maintaining her at her optimal lean body weight are also crucial. If she’s overweight, a healthy weightreduction plan should be instituted immediately.


When it comes to relief, reaching for a single “big gun” pharmaceutical is rarely the most effective approach. Rather, best results are achieved by working with your vet to develop a plan tailored to help with your dog’s specifi c issues. An integrative, multimodal therapy regime can maximize your dog’s comfort and well-being as it minimizes the potential side effects of certain therapies, and is often more gentle to boot. Following are a few strategies that have been found to be benefi cial.


Around the house: Provide well-padded bedding away from cold or damp drafts. (This will also help prevent the development of pressure-point calluses.) Carpeted or padded steps or a ramp to get on and off the bed or couch are advised. Nonskid fl ooring wherever surfaces are slippery is also very helpful. Outside, your dog may fi nd a gently sloped ramp easier to negotiate than steps.


Body work: Many arthritic dogs appreciate muscle massages, which stimulate blood fl ow to atrophying muscles. Certified canine massage therapists are available in most areas of the country; many are willing to demonstrate techniques to owners. (Start your search here: members.iaamb.org/users.) Warm compresses over sore joints can be soothing, but care must be used to avoid injury from excess heat.




CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Kaya | November 16 2011 |

Thanks for the rundown on the treatments available. I am treating my osteoarthritis using a multimodal approach which includes NSAIDS, neutraceuticals, acupuncture, hydrotherapy among other treatments. There are a few options I was not aware of (such as the laser treatments) which I will investigate further. http://kayadog.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/my-life-philosophy/

Submitted by Kathy | June 26 2012 |

Wow! When I googled arthritis pain management in dogs, I didn't expect to get such a comprehensive article. You addressed every aspect of treating our aging Lab Mix. Will your suggestions, we'll meet with our Vet and have an informed discussion of our options for keeping Josie comfortable as she ages.

Thanks tons!

Submitted by Jenn | August 1 2014 |

Thank you so much for this article! It's nice to find more approaches to pet health care! I had taken Butch to the vet for arthritis and they gave him the Rimadyl which made him so sick. So I looked up the side effects and realized it kills the dog and shuts down their organs!! So I got out and did some research. I started using glucosamine which did help some but since he was only 8 I wanted to see more. I actually found a great treat that is all natural and within just a few weeks he was PULLING ME down the street again on walks!! Oh and coconut oil is also a very good supplement to give them which helps with all different kinds of ailments!

Submitted by Rashmi | August 12 2014 |

Dear Jenn,
I am so glad to have read your comments made by you. My Fudge is diagnosed with early stages of arthritis. She is just 5 and very play full. Breaks all our hears to see her in pain. Vet has given medicine and dietary changers. Could you please let me in on your treatment to bring my babies suffering to an end and cure her.
In much appreciation Rashmi

Submitted by Robyn | August 24 2014 |

hello, I am also interested to what this treat is that you have found, last week I took my great dane the vets, to find out she has spinal problems, she is currently on tramadol and metacam but is still tender.


Submitted by Bri | August 24 2014 |


Please share what medicine you found that helped! I would like to are if it helps my dog too :D

Submitted by Annie | August 25 2014 |

Hi Jenn, I too would like to know the name of 'the treat' you give to you doggy that has helped it's joints so much.
My doggy is 12 now and struggling to walk, so any info on things that help would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you,

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