5 Ways to Help Ease Your Dog's Arthritis
This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian,
Although arthritis is one of the most common health conditions we see in dogs as they age, the good news is that there are some simple steps you can take at home to help ease those aches and pains.
Before embarking on an arthritis management plan, please consult with your veterinarian to make sure that it is suitable for your dog's individual health needs.
1. Weight Control
Weight control is the single most important strategy in the management of arthritis in dogs. As well as adding extra load to sore joints, fat also releases inflammatory mediators which contribute to inflammation in many part's of your dog's body, including the joints.
While regular exercise is important, weight loss in pets is most consistently and reliably achieved through the use of a therapeutic diet. As well as controlled calorie levels, these diets also employ cutting edge nutritional science to help boost your pet's metabolism and prevent feelings of hunger during weight loss. Due to their specialised nature, therapeutic diets must only be used under your vet's recommendation and guidance, so check with them first before changing your dog's food.
Top therapeutic diets for weight control
2. Pain Relief
Your vet may prescribe medication to help manage the pain and inflammation associated with your dog's arthritis. In some cases, multiple medications may be needed to achieve the best results. Some forms of pain relief aren't suitable for some dogs due to other health issues, so every case is assessed on an individual case basis. Some treatments available include:
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
This group of medications is one of the most commonly prescribed pain relief medications for arthritis in dogs and can only be prescribed by your veterinarian. While extremely effective in many cases, close attention needs to be paid to your dog's kidney and liver function before and during use, so regular check ups are required.
Some examples of NSAIDs used in dogs to treat arthritis are Meloxicam (Metacam, Loxicom), Carprofen (Rimadyl) and Firocoxib (Previcox).
Disease modifying arthritis drugs (Pentosan polysulfate)
Your vet may also prescribe a course of injections to help manage arthritis. The brand name of these injections can vary (Zydax, Cartrophen, Pentosan), however the the active ingredient, Pentosan Polysulfate is the same. Pentosan polysulfate is of plant origin and acts within the joint to preserve joint health and provide pain relief. It is usually given as a series of injections, one injection per week for 4-6 weeks, followed by a booster injection at a time frame specificed by your vet.
3. Nutritional supplements and prescription diets
Therapeutic mobility diets
If your dog has arthritis, your vet may recommend a therapeutic diet which has been scientifically formulated and proven to help improve mobility. These diets contain a number of beneficial nutrients which are known to help reduce inflammation and support joint health at therapeutic levels, while also delivering high quality, easy to digest nutrition to keep your pet in optimal health and body condition. Prescription and veterinary diets are simpler to use then supplements (no need to add anything to your pet's food or give tablets) and also tend to be backed by more extensive research and development.
Top therapeutic mobility diets for dogs
Arthritis supplements in dogs most commonly contain one or more of the following nutrients:
Omega fatty acids - the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have been demonstrated to have anti inflammatory properties, and as far as supplements for arthritis go, they are backed by the most convincing evidence. Omega 3s can be obtained from lots of difference sources including fish oil, green lipped mussel powder, flaxseeds and nuts, marine sources of omega fatty acids (such as fish, fish oil and green lipped mussel) are the most effective for dogs.
Glucosamine and chondroitin - glucosamine and chondroitin are the building blocks of normal healthy cartilage and provide essential joint nutrients to help protect, nourish and repair cartilage. Products containing glucosamine and chondroitin are usually harvested from sea mollusks. Despite a lack of strong evidence in the veterinary literature, some veterinarians and owners have found supplementation to be helpful. With minimal side effects compared to some of the common pain relief medications, they are a good option for mild cases and to use alongside other therapies.
Green lipped mussel powder is a potent source of both omega 3 fatty acids, along with glucosamine and chondroitin, making it a great supplement choice for dogs with arthritis.
Image: Richard Giddins from London, UK [CC BY 2.0]
Green lipped mussel powder arthritis supplements for dogs
4. Physical Therapy and Controlled Low-Impact Exercise
When it comes to exercise, balance is key. We don't want to over-do it and lead to discomfort and accelerated cartilage destruction, however we do want to achieve a healthy weight which requires some degree of exercise. Most dogs are comfortable with light to moderate exercise regimes however every animal is different, so it's important to talk to your veterinarian about what's best for your dog. Swimming or walking in water is an excellent option, with minimal pressure placed on the joints and it is a gentle way to strengthen and rebuild muscles to prevent further injury.
Many arthritic dogs also respond well to muscle massage and acupuncture. You can also apply warm compresses over sore joints and perform gentle massage yourself at home. Always take care to avoid injury from excess heat when using warm compresses.
5. The Importance of the Right Bed
Getting out of bed is one of my least favourite activities of the day. And for an arthritic dog, the physical strain of getting out of bed can be quite challenging. When looking for a bed, try to find a well-padded bed that is elevated slightly. Rising from ground level can be difficult with stiff joints and an elevated bed requires less movement to get up. Avoid beds with a large lip as this can be hard to step over and ideally find a sturdy bed with memory foam such as the Paws For Snores Memory Foam Mattress. The solid structure will provide better support whereas soft, fluffy beds can make getting up a more difficult task. To provide a bit of comfort, a soft blanket or cushion is a welcome addition.
Carpeted, non-slip flooring is also advised around bedding and if possible, in all areas of the house your dog travels to. Cold weather can cause stiff joints, so a heating mat can help soothe sore joints and improve mobility when getting up. It is best to place the mat over half of the bed only. If the heating mat covers the whole bed, your dog will not be able to regulate their temperature and may overheat. Heat mats should always have a cover and supervision during use is required as some dogs may remove the cover. Direct contact for prolonged periods can cause burns, so please exercise caution. Check out the Snugglesafe Heat Mat.
Top supportive dog beds
Want to know more?
After more information about taking care of your dog with arthritis? Check out our video and additional articles below:
How to help your dog with arthritis
Dr. Carla discusses how to help your dog with arthritis. For more great pet videos from our vets, head over to our Youtube Channel.