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If you have an older dog with arthritis whose symptoms worsen by the day despite taking prescription NSAIDs, you might wonder about natural remedies for arthritis in dogs. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to improve your arthritic dog’s quality of life using natural remedies. But there is so much marketing hype around unregulated pet supplements you could waste a lot of time and money on useless fluff.
The most effective natural remedies for arthritis in dogs are based on lifestyle changes, not pills or powders. Achieving and maintaining a lean body weight for your dog is the number one priority in decreasing joint pain. After that, an upgraded diet including some fresh foods and supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric and glucosamine are a great start. More specific treatments that may help certain dogs include physical therapy, platelet-rich plasma injections, acupuncture, and herbal remedies.
Many of these therapies don’t have much scientific evidence to support their use in dogs, but anecdotal reports from dog owners are often positive.
Multi-Modal Treatments for Dogs with Arthritis
Veterinarians recommend “multimodal” treatment for the best outcome for dogs with arthritis. That means it’s better to use more than one kind of treatment to help your dog with arthritis.
If you think your dog needs a little help but is not yet ready for prescription medication, you can help your dog with arthritis at home without turning to risky medications like aspirin. The key points are weight loss, moderate exercise, herbal/nutritional supplements and stretching. All of these can make a significant difference in arthritis discomfort.
Arthritis Affects at Least 25% of All Dogs
The veterinary term for typical dog “arthritis” is osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD). Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease that happens when cartilage breaks down. The degenerating cartilage leads to inflammation, hardening of joint tissues, pain, and decreased joint function. The process is irreversible.
Older dogs are more likely to have some degree of arthritis from wear and tear on joints, but dogs of any age may be affected. Experts estimate that one-quarter (25%) of dogs will be affected by OA during their lifetime (2).
Since canine arthritis spans a spectrum of severity, you should choose which remedy to use by your dog’s level of symptoms.
How to Help a Dog With Arthritis at Home
Help Your Dog Lose Weight
Arthritis symptoms are generally worse in overweight dogs. Losing weight is not easy, but it can make a huge impact on the severity of the arthritis pain your dog has to endure (8). Plus, it doesn’t cost you anything and has no long-term bad side effects for your dog!
The easiest way to start is by limiting treats to two or three small, low-calorie bits per day. Try baby carrots, apple slices, or even Charlee Bear© treats which have only 3 calories each (or make my homemade version of training treats). I advise people to decrease their dog’s food allotment by about 25%, depending on what they’re feeding and how overweight their dog is. Ask your vet for help on this.
If your dog’s arthritis pain is mild to moderate, you can try increasing his exercise to help him lose weight. Go very slowly with this, though! If his pain is worse the day after exercise, let him rest until he is better and start over with a smaller amount of milder exercise. You might have to increase in five minute increments of slow walking. See below for more on exercise.
Dogs who are otherwise healthy can safely lose about 2% of their body weight per month. That means if your dog weighs 50 pounds, she can lose 1 pound per month. Check your dog’s weight every two to four weeks. If you’re not seeing progress after a couple of months, get help from your veterinarian.
Your goal is to have your dog in lean body condition. That means you should be able to feel her ribs when you put your hands on her chest, but not see the ribs (when the dog is wet for dogs with longer fur).
Regular Moderate Exercise
Dogs with arthritis suffer more stiffness after periods of inactivity. Based on clinical experience of veterinarians, there is no question that regular, moderate exercise improves pain levels of dogs with arthritis. Daily walks of 15 to 30 minutes will help keep your dogs joints loosened and more comfortable. Beware of overdoing it, though. Too much exercise is as bad as no exercise at all. Your dog should avoid high-energy and high-impact activities like running and jumping if it makes him feel worse afterward.
Herbs and Plant-Based Products
CBD oil is the latest entrant into the field of contenders for treating dog arthritis. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a natural compound extracted from hemp plants (which contains only trace amounts of the psychoactive chemical THC). CBD can provide pain relief in dogs. There are several early veterinary studies showing that CBD decreased pain scores in dogs with arthritis and had no serious side effects (6).
The best-studied brand of CBD for dogs at this time is ElleVet Sciences. It’s not inexpensive, but may be a good option for dogs who can’t tolerate NSAIDs. It’s best to use CBD products with guidance from your veterinarian since they can cause some changes in blood liver values. Do not use any CBD or cannabis products made for humans as they are usually too strong for dogs.
Herbs and Plant-Based Remedies
Humans have used herbs and plants to treat pain for eons. Many of these remedies are well-tolerated by dogs when used in appropriate doses. Boswellia, Andrographis paniculata, Hawthorn, Licorice, nettle leaf, turmeric, yucca root, and willow bark target joint pain, to name only a few. There are also many combination/Chinese herbal formulas such as Du Huo Ji Sheng are effective at decreasing pain and inflammation (7).
An easy way to try an herbal remedy is to use a combination product made specifically for dogs. My clients like Arthroplex from ThorneVet. It contains glucosamine, Boswellia, bromelain and curcumin in a chewable form.
If you’d like to experiment with herbs more extensively, please enlist the help of a veterinarian trained in herbology. Even natural remedies for arthritis in dogs can cause serious problems when used improperly.
Also, remember that any oral medication can cause gastrointestinal upset. If your dog experiences vomiting, diarrhea, or decreased appetite after starting any new herbal supplement you should stop using it and contact your veterinarian for help.
Warming or Cooling Arthritic Joints
If there is a particular area that is sore, you can apply heat or cooling. For heat, I use a heating pad, set on low and wrapped in a towel held over the area for 5 to 10 minutes. Or try bathing small dogs in deep, warm water for 10-20 minutes (don’t leave him unattended).
For cooling, I use either a frozen cooler pack or a bag of frozen veggies wrapped in a towel for the same amount of time. You’ll have to experiment to see which helps your dog feel better. If your dog seems uncomfortable with either of these, just stop and don’t push the issue.
Massage and Stretching
Most people don’t need much convincing that massage can have therapeutic effects on pain for themselves. Animals can benefit from massage therapy in the same way. Massage can be used for acute and chronic pain.
If you have access to a veterinary rehabilitation specialist, I highly recommend you try them! Rehabilitative therapy can do wonders for increasing and maintaining mobility. If you don’t have a rehab specialist near you, I have a book I really like called The Healthy Way to Stretch Your Dog. It was written by a faculty member from the Rehabilitation Coordinator at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and it’s easy to understand.
Dog Food for Arthritis
Dog food can go a long way toward reducing general inflammation and increasing overall health. There are so many options for upgrading your pet’s diet these days–it could take you weeks to decide which commercial dog food to try then days to weeks to get your dog switched over to the new dog food.
While you’re figuring out how to make that major change, why not offer small portions of fresh “human” food in addition to the current diet? The fresh fats, proteins, minerals and antioxidants can do wonders for a dog’s appetite. I’ve seen many elderly dogs regain a lot of energy just from eating a bit of real meat and sweet potato regularly. And they sure seem a lot more excited to eat, too!
Start by adding very small amounts of fresh food and work your way up. I’m talking, maybe a couple of tablespoons for a medium to large-sized dog at each meal. Watch your dog’s poops–if you see several bouts of soft stool, mucus, blood, straining to poop, etc. stop the fresh food for a few days and try again but go more slowly. Some dogs never do get to the point of being able to eat just any protein or carb you offer. Experiment and observe.
After you’ve ramped up the fresh “people” food, don’t feed more than about ⅓ of your dog’s total daily food intake from table foods or you risk causing nutritional imbalances. Make any changes gradually over a period of 7-14 days to avoid stomach upset.
Some easy fresh human foods to try adding to commercial dog food:
- A little canned salmon or water-packed sardines
- A bit of baked sweet potato
- A few tablespoons of 90% lean cooked ground meat (pork seems to be more of a problem for dogs than chicken, turkey and beef)
- A few blueberries (thawed from frozen is OK)
Consider making a gradual change to a fish-based food (more omega 3 fatty acid), a moist food rather than dry kibble, or even dry kibble food made with ingredients added to help with arthritis.
If you decide to feed homemade dog food for arthritis, please get a recipe for a balanced diet from a veterinary nutritionist! You can even get a free recipe from BalanceIt.com but you’ll have to buy and add their powdered supplement to make the diet complete. Feeding an unbalanced diet can cause serious problems over the course of months. Don’t make this mistake!
Nutritional Supplements to Decrease Inflammation
After adding fresh foods, a joint supplement is worth a try to improve your dog’s arthritis pain. Go slowly and cautiously with these, too!
- Fish oil contains a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids not found in many other foods. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease the pain and inflammation of canine arthritis.
Fish oil helps arthritis pain. Learn how to safely give your dog fish oil supplements.
- Propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly are all products derived from honey bees. When taken orally, these products have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM are available for dogs in oral form. These substances work at the level of the joint to maintain normal cartilage. My dogs take Glycoflex 3, but there are many good options. For dogs with severe arthritis, the injectable form in Adequan is often helpful. Ask your vet.
- Undenatured type-II collagen is an oral nutritional supplement that has been shown to slow the breakdown of collagen and decrease joint inflammation. Dogs who took 10 mg of UC-II per day had a significant improvement in pain level (4).
- Antioxidants including vitamins C and E, glutathione and methionine may quell general inflammation in the body. My clients like Cell Advance for dogs.
More Alternative Arthritis Pain Relief Options
If you’re doing all you can to treat your dog’s arthritis at home and he’s still needs more pain relief, consider enlisting the help of a vet who uses alternative medicine. Sometimes these non-mainstream therapies prove to be very helpful natural remedies for arthritis in dogs.
Clinically proven to be an effective therapy to reduce pain, acupuncture is safe and gentle when administered by a trained practitioner. Acupuncture can be used for both acute and chronic pain and inflammation. Most dogs get acupuncture treatments once a week for a few weeks or until they show a good response. Then monthly treatments are used for maintenance.
Cold Laser/Light Therapy
Cold laser and infrared light can soothe the pain of arthritis in dogs. Cold laser therapy is available through many general veterinary clinics. It’s usually given as a set of weekly treatments and is painless for your dog.
According to rehabvets.org, “Physical rehabilitation is the treatment of injury or illness to decrease pain and restore function.” Injured and painful animals stop moving in a normal way in order to avoid pain. This treatment helps animals by using exercise and physical manipulations to restore normal movement patterns. Specially trained veterinarians and therapists are available to help.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is made by drawing blood from your dog and separating out the platelets and plasma from other blood components. The concentrated platelets have a large amount of bioactive proteins and growth factors.
When injected into an arthritic joint by a veterinarian, PRP significantly reduces the inflammation and pain found in arthritic joints (5). PRP injections may be given once or multiple times over a period of weeks for more severe cases. The beneficial effects of PRP injections can last for weeks to months.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are a special type of cells present in multi-cellular organisms that can transform into bone, cartilage, fat and connective tissue. In stem cell therapy for dog arthritis, stem cells are collected using a bit of fat from the same dog or from a donor dog. After processing, the stem cells are injected into the arthritic joint space. The injected stem cells help repair damaged cartilage in arthritic joints, improving pain scores in dogs with degenerative joint disease (1).
The good effects of stem cell therapy can last months to years. It’s not cheap, but this is the closest thing to a cure for dog arthritis that we have at this time.
Ultrasound can speed healing of injured tissues. There is clinical evidence that ultrasound can stimulate cell migration, proliferation, and collagen synthesis of tendon cells that may aid in tendon healing (9). Some practitioners use it in cases of arthritis as well, as it may have a positive effect on the concurrent soft tissue changes that occur in the disease.
Other Prescription Pain Medication for Arthritis in Dogs
Veterinarians have other prescription medications available to treat severe arthritis pain. Some of these work better than others and each dog will respond better to certain drugs.
Some of the meds I’ve used to help dogs live longer with arthritis include tramadol, gabapentin, Adequan injections, and amantadine. Fortunately, most dogs tolerate these medications well so it’s worth trying one or more of them if your dog is still in pain despite trying some of the other things mentioned above.
With a multi-modal approach to treating pain and immobility, dogs can live a long, normal life span despite having arthritis. Weight loss, nutrition, plant-based therapeutics and nutritional supplements decrease the need to use stronger drugs. Prescription medications and veterinarian-administered treatments can be added for more severe cases of arthritis to keep your dog comfortable for a long time.
photo credit cc bY 2.0: Donnie Ray Jones
- Black, L. L., Gaynor, J., Gahring, D., Adams, C., Aron, D., Harman, S., … & Harman, R. (2007). Effect of adipose-derived mesenchymal stem and regenerative cells on lameness in dogs with chronic osteoarthritis of the coxofemoral joints: a randomized, double-blinded, multicenter controlled trial. Veterinary Therapeutics, 8(4), 272.
- Bland, S. D. (2015). Canine osteoarthritis and treatments: a review. Veterinary Science Development.
- Deparle, L. A., Gupta, R. C., Canerdy, T. D., Goad, J. T., D’ALTILIO, M., Bagchi, M., & Bagchi, D. (2005). Efficacy and safety of glycosylated undenatured type‐II collagen (UC‐II) in therapy of arthritic dogs §. Journal of veterinary pharmacology and therapeutics, 28(4), 385-390.
- Fahie, M. A., Ortolano, G. A., Guercio, V., Schaffer, J. A., Johnston, G., Au, J., … & Bertone, A. L. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of autologous platelet therapy for the treatment of osteoarthritis in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 243(9), 1291-1297.
- Gamble, L. J., Boesch, J. M., Frye, C. W., Schwark, W. S., Mann, S., Wolfe, L., … & Wakshlag, J. J. (2018). Pharmacokinetics, safety, and clinical efficacy of cannabidiol treatment in osteoarthritic dogs. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 165.
- Lee, L. V. (2019). Non-Surgical Treatment for Cranial Cruciate Ligament Rupture in Senior Dogs: A Retrospective Case Series. American Journal of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, 14(1).
- Marshall, W. G., Hazewinkel, H. A., Mullen, D., De Meyer, G., Baert, K., & Carmichael, S. (2010). The effect of weight loss on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis. Veterinary research communications, 34(3), 241-253.
- Tsai, W. C., Tang, S. T., & Liang, F. C. (2011). Effect of therapeutic ultrasound on tendons. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 90(12), 1068–1073.
Last update on 2021-09-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API