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Arthritis is a common problem for older dogs, causing joint pain and reducing their mobility. Although conventional pain relief options are effective for many dogs, pet owners are increasingly choosing natural remedies to avoid side effects or provide additional relief.
This article will explore non-drug and natural treatment options for arthritic dogs from herbs to nutritional supplements. I’ll touch on conventional therapies, such as physical therapy and stem cell therapy. You’ll also learn some simple lifestyle tweaks to minimize your dog’s arthritis pain.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of conventional and alternative therapies available for relieving your dog’s arthritis pain.
Understanding Arthritis in Dogs
A dog’s joints include bone, cartilage, synovial fluid and other soft tissue structures. Inflammation in a joint is commonly called arthritis. It can be caused by immune-mediated disease, infection, trauma or degenerative processes related to aging.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of dog arthritis. It is a progressive condition that occurs when cartilage breaks down, leading to inflammation, stiffening of joint tissues, pain, and reduced joint function. Unfortunately, once the damage occurs, it is irreversible.
Arthritis is more common in older dogs due to the wear and tear on their joints, but dogs of any age can be affected. It’s estimated that at least 25% of dogs will experience OA in their lifetime. (2)
Age-related joint tissue degeneration is another common cause of OA in dogs. In most cases, multiple joints are affected and the condition develops gradually.
Another common cause of canine OA is trauma to the joint. Trauma can come from an acute injury or chronic trauma from anatomic abnormalities. For example, hip arthritis can occur due to an improperly formed ball and socket joint as seen with hip dysplasia. A traumatic hip dislocation injury can also cause hip arthritis.
Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs
Some of the symptoms of arthritis are obvious. Others are more subtle and may mislead a dog owner into thinking the problem is behavioral.
- Playing less
- Laying around more
- Sleeping more
- Doesn’t like to be petted/not cuddly
- Reluctance to jump into the car or on furniture
- Stops jumping up on people
- Pacing gait instead of a normal trot
- Trips or falls more often
- Back legs are weak when going upstairs
- Laying down to eat
- Sitting or lying differently–back legs splayed, holding up front legs, etc.
- Restless at night
- Urinating or defecating in the house because it’s too hard to get outside
- Licking over painful joints
Diagnosis and Treatment
It’s important to see a veterinarian if you notice any of the symptoms listed above. The process of making a diagnosis may require a physical examination, radiographs, CT scan and sometimes analysis of joint synovial fluid.
There are many options for treating your dog’s pain and slowing down joint degeneration. The severity of arthritis can vary, so it’s important to get help from your vet in choosing appropriate treatments.
The backbone of conventional dog arthritis treatment is the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) made specifically for dogs. These medications are less likely to cause serious side effects than older NSAIDs made for humans. You might recognize the brand names Rimadyl® and Deramaxx®.
Some dogs with severe arthritis pain may also benefit from prescription pain medication such as gabapentin, amantadine or opioids.
Non-Drug Pain Relief for Old Dogs
Conventional treatments work well in many, but not all cases of canine arthritis. Some dogs can’t tolerate the side effects of conventional treatments. Some dog owners prefer to use non-drug and natural treatments. Finally, many dogs do better when receiving multiple kinds of therapy for their joint disease. Let’s talk about some alternative pain relief treatments…
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 to avoid pain.
Physical therapy helps animals by using exercise and physical manipulations to restore normal movement patterns. Specially trained veterinarians and therapists are available to help.
Cold laser therapy is a painless treatment option for dogs with arthritis. These lasers emit low levels of radiation energy to the affected area using a handheld probe.
This therapy is quick and easy, typically lasting only a few minutes. It is widely available at many general veterinary clinics. During the initial phase, your dog will receive a series of weekly treatments, followed by intermittent maintenance sessions.
Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy involves drawing blood from your dog and separating the platelets and plasma. A veterinarian will administer the PRP injection directly into the affected joint. Platelets have high levels of bioactive proteins and growth factors that reduce inflammation and pain in arthritic joints. (5)
Depending on the severity of the disease, a dog may receive one or multiple injections for several weeks. The positive effects can last from several weeks to several months.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for dogs with arthritis. These special cells can turn into different types of tissue, such as bone, cartilage, fat, and connective tissue.
Stem cells are collected from the dog’s own fat or from a donor dog. After processing, the cells are injected into the affected joint, helping to repair damaged cartilage and reduce pain. (1) The benefits can last several months to years.
Natural Pain Relief & Anti-Inflammatories
Acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of very thin needles into specific points on a dog’s body to stimulate the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals and promote healing. It is a gentle therapy that can help manage the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis in dogs.
Acupuncture can treat both short-term and long-term pain and inflammation. Treatments are often given once a week for several weeks, then monthly for maintenance. You can find a certified veterinary acupuncturist near you using the IVAS or Chi University websites.
Herbs and Plant Products
Humans have used herbs and plants to treat pain for eons. Many are well-tolerated by dogs when used in appropriate doses. A few of the plant products that may ease joint pain include
- Andrographis paniculata
- Nettle leaf
- Yucca root
- Willow bark
Many Chinese herbal formulas combine several herbs to treat different arthritis symptoms. One of the classic formulas, Du Huo Ji Sheng, has been shown to effectively treat pain and inflammation. (7)
A veterinarian with special training can recommend an herbal remedy for your dog’s specific needs. The Chi University website lists certified veterinary herbalists.
Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has recently emerged as a potential treatment option for dog arthritis. CBD is a natural compound derived from hemp plants that contains insignificant amounts of the psychoactive chemical THC. Early veterinary studies indicate that it may decrease arthritis pain in dogs without causing significant side effects. (6)
It is important to use CBD products with excellent quality control records. The cost of high-quality supplements may be higher than most dog owners expect. Consult your veterinarian for help finding the best and safest CBD supplement for your pet.
Nutritional joint supplements help support joint health and reduce pain in dogs with arthritis. They provide a natural way to improve mobility and enhance the quality of life for our furry companions.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are a popular alternative treatment for dogs with arthritis. These supplements are derived from fish oils and contain high levels of EPA and DHA, which have anti-inflammatory properties. They reduce joint pain and stiffness, improve mobility and reduce inflammation in the joints.
Because omega-3 fatty acids have good scientific evidence for decreasing arthritis pain in dogs, many vets routinely recommend these supplements.
Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM are available for dogs in oral form. These supplements work in 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 shown to slow the breakdown of joint collagen and decrease inflammation. One study found that dogs who took 10 mg of UC-II per day had significant improvements in their pain level. (4)
How to Help Any Dog with Arthritis
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Achieving and maintaining a lean body condition may be the most important factor in improving a dog’s arthritis pain. Although weight loss is challenging for some dogs, it is possible in virtually every case. Ask your vet how much your dog should weigh and how to achieve that goal.
I often recommend my clients switch their overweight dogs with arthritis to a prescription diet, at least temporarily. One that works well is made by Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic + Mobility j/d® dog food. It’s formulated to aid weight loss while having high levels of omega-3 fatty acids for joint pain.
Regular, Moderate Exercise
Moderate exercise is an important part of managing arthritis in dogs. It helps improve joint function, increase flexibility, and reduce pain and stiffness. Gentle walks and swimming are great options as they place less stress on joints.
Dogs with arthritis pain often don’t want to exercise but feel better after they do. It’s important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the best exercise plan for your dog, taking into account their age, size, and overall health. Regular exercise can greatly improve the quality of life for a senior dog with arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a common problem for older dogs causing joint pain and reducing their mobility. Conventional treatments such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are effective, but some dogs can’t tolerate their side effects.
Many pet owners are interested in using natural remedies or non-drug therapies, such as physical therapy, laser therapy, herbs and nutritional supplements. These treatments often provide relief for dogs with joint pain. It’s important to see a veterinarian to diagnose the severity of osteoarthritis and choose treatments that are appropriate for your dog’s symptoms.
- 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.