Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain in elderly dogs. This condition is caused by thinning of the cartilage within joints, leading to inflammation, bony growths, and eventually a narrowing of the joint space.
As arthritis progresses, you may notice that your dog becomes less active. He or she might stop running as much on walks, avoid jumping onto the sofa, and become less mobile around the house.
Sadly, there’s no cure for arthritis in dogs. There are still many lifestyle changes you can make to relieve your dog’s pain though. Here are ten ways to ease your dog’s discomfort.
Before We Begin…Always Consult Your Vet About Canine Arthritis!
Lifestyle changes can make a big difference to your dog’s arthritis pain, but there are also a variety of medical treatments. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Chondroprotective drugs to stimulate cartilage repair.
- Dietary supplements, such as omega 3 and glucosamine, to support healthy cartilage, tendons, and bones.
You should always consult your vet about potential treatments for your dog’s arthritis. Medication can often have a quick and noticeable impact on pain, and may even slow the progression of arthritis.
There are also other diseases that can cause similar symptoms to arthritis. It’s important for your vet to rule these out, as they may require different treatments.
1. Make Your Home Easy to Navigate
Arthritis can make it difficult to walk on slippery floors or to step over clutter. It also makes your dog unstable and prone to injury. For this reason, try to make your home as easy as possible to navigate.
One way to do this is to add non-slip mats to hardwood or tile floors. These are easier for your dog to grip, which reduces pressure on the joints. If your pet loves to snuggle up on the sofa, then consider getting a ramp so they aren’t forced to jump up.
2. Keep Your Pet at a Comfortably Warm Temperature
Cold and damp often make arthritis pain worse. To prevent unnecessary discomfort, try to always keep your dog at a warm temperature. It’s also important that they aren’t left damp and cold after a walk.
A warm compress placed over joints may help to relieve arthritis pain. Be careful not to overheat or burn your dog’s skin though.
3. Don’t Forget About Exercise
Senior dogs with arthritis may be less active, but that doesn’t mean they should be sedentary. Exercise is essential for mental stimulation and keeping your dog happy. It also strengthens muscles, which is important for supporting the joints.
Of course, you’ll need to adapt your daily walks and play to avoid aggravating your pet’s joints. Make sure to walk at your dog’s pace, rather than charging ahead, and allow him or her plenty of time to stop and sniff. Monitor your dog’s activity and avoid high-impact games.
You’ll also need to gradually reduce your dog’s exercise depending on the progression of arthritis.
4. Consider Canine Massage to Relieve Pain
Massage increases blood flow to the muscles, increases flexibility, and helps your dog to relax. It can directly relieve your dog’s arthritis pain, while also increasing their overall well-being.
It’s best to visit a certified canine massage therapist for this, as too much pressure or massaging the wrong locations could do more harm than good. Ask your vet for a recommendation.
5. Monitor Your Dog’s Weight
Being overweight puts more stress and strain on your dog’s joints. Over time, this leads to more pain and faster cartilage damage, so it’s vital to keep your dog at a healthy weight.
As dogs get older, their metabolism starts to slow down. This reduced ability to burn calories, combined with a more sedentary lifestyle due to arthritis, means that you may need to reduce the amount of food provided each day.
Closely monitor your dog’s weight by weighing him or her regularly. You can then adjust the amount of kibble or wet dog food your dog eats depending on their weight loss or gain.
6. Buy a Car Ramp
Getting in and out of a car can become a painful struggle for a dog with arthritis. Jumping out, in particular, puts a lot of stress on sore joints.
An easy solution is to buy a car ramp. These allow your pet to walk up a shallow incline into the trunk, rather than needing to jump. Most car ramps are foldable and relatively lightweight for portability.
7. Support Your Dog’s Joints With an Orthopedic Bed
A comfortable and restful sleep is important for your dog’s well-being. Unfortunately, sore joints can make it difficult to sleep, especially if the shoulders or hips are resting on a hard floor.
The best solution to this issue is to buy your pet an orthopedic dog bed. Orthopedic beds are usually made from memory foam that supports the joints and prevents your pet from sinking through to the hard floor.
Make sure you buy a bed that’s thick enough for your pet though. Cheaper orthopedic beds may only provide 1-2 inches of foam, which isn’t enough for heavier dogs. It’s also important to place the bed away from cold drafts that could make your pet’s joint pain worse.
8. Encourage Gentle Movement Throughout the Day
Dogs with arthritis often become stiff and sore after resting. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to encourage gentle movement throughout the day.
This shouldn’t be intense exercise though. It can as simple as going into the garden a few times to stimulate blood flow. Avoid chase games or anything that requires sudden changes in direction, however, as this can make joint pain worse.
9. Consider Blocking Off Staircases
Stairs can be painful for your dog to walk up and down, but your pet may still push through the discomfort to come upstairs. This can aggravate the joints and lead to more pain.
For this reason, it may be a good idea to install a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs. This allows you to control when your pet comes upstairs. If your pet is a smaller breed, then you may want to carry them upstairs to minimize joint pain.
10. Make it Easy for Your Dog to Access Food and Water
As a dog’s arthritis progresses, it may become painful to lower their head towards the floor when standing. This can make accessing food and water bowls increasingly difficult.
One solution is to buy an elevated dog bowl. These often have an adjustable height, so you can customize the position depending on your dog’s mobility. You should also ensure that there’s a non-slip mat or rug for your pet to stand on while eating.
There are many ways to reduce arthritis pain in dogs. While medication can be important, the lifestyle changes above can also have a positive effect on your pet’s discomfort.
Keep in mind that every dog is different, so you may need to experiment with what works best for your pet. It’s also important to stay in close contact with your vet, who will advise you on the best treatments as your dog navigates his or her senior years.
Richard is passionate about positive and compassionate dog training. He's currently editor of The Dog Clinic, which aims to promote a deeper understanding of canine behavior to a wider audience.