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How to treat arthritis in dogs

Sassafras Lowrey writer headshot By | April 28, 2020
Medically reviewed by Emma Ryan, DVM

Just like their owners, dogs can develop arthritis as they age. Arthritis in dogs impacts joints and the tissues surrounding them, causing pain from normal movement. As pets live longer, it’s becoming more common. There’s no cure for the condition, but you can help your pup manage symptoms and stay active.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in dogs. The cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears away as dogs age. That can cause discomfort, inflammation, or decreased range of motion.

Risk factors for arthritis in dogs

Any dog can develop arthritis in old age, but certain factors make it more likely. Risk factors include previous orthopedic injuries, genetics, and being overweight. 

Symptoms of arthritis in dogs

Symptoms of arthritis in dogs are similar to those experienced by people. Here are signs you can identify they could be experiencing arthritis pain:

  • Reluctance to play or climb stairs
  • Lameness, or walking stiffly
  • Difficulty getting up or laying down
  • Lethargy 
  • Weight gain

Some dogs will try to hide their pain until it’s severe. It can be difficult to watch once-active dogs slow down and lose interest in normal activities. The good news is advancements in veterinary medicine can provide pain relief and support for arthritic dogs.

How to treat arthritis in dogs

If your dog starts showing any of these warning signs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a full exam and to develop a treatment plan. “There are many different options that can help a dog with arthritis,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas and a veterinary consultant for doglab.com. “Things such as pain medication, cold laser therapy, [supplements like] glucosamine and chondroitin, and even certain surgeries can be done to help your dog.” 

Arthritis is not a condition that can be cured, but the symptoms can be greatly reduced through medical management. For most dogs that will mean using multiple modalities of treatment including:

  • Frequent low intensity activity
  • Dietary changes to maintain a healthy body weight
  • Prescription medications
  • Dietary supplements such as omega three fatty acids and glucosamine chondroitin
  • Surgery
  • Alternative treatments (such as acupuncture or laser therapy)
  • Medication
  • Physical therapy

Your vet will be able to help you tailor strategies for your dog taking into consideration age, lifestyle, and any other medical conditions.

Medication options for treating arthritis in dogs

Many vets will prescribe medication to keep dogs with arthritis as comfortable as possible.

“Most arthritis medications work by decreasing inflammation and/or pain,” explains Jennifer Coates, DVM, a small animal veterinarian in Colorado who serves on the advisory board for Pet Life Today. “Some arthritis supplements have a similar, albeit often less powerful action, but may also improve joints by promoting cartilage health and the production of protective joint fluid.”  

NSAIDs for dogs

These anti-inflammatory medications are similar to the ibuprofen or aspirin you would find at the local drug store. But, they are formulated specifically for your pooch. Just don’t share from your medicine cabinet. Over-the-counter Advil or Aleve are toxic to dogs and should never be given. Doggy NSAID options include:

  • Deramaxx (deracoxib)
  • EtoGesic (etodolac)
  • Metacam (meloxicam)
  • Previcox (firocoxib)
  • Rimadyl (carprofen)
  • Galliprant (Grapiprant)

When supervised by a vet, NSAID therapy can be a safe treatment option. 

Prescription pain relievers

Many times an additional pain medication may be used in conjunction with an NSAID. These medications are frequently pain medications used in people. These can include:

When a vet prescribes one of these medications, you can pick them up at the pharmacy where you get your own prescriptions filled, and use your SingleCare card to save. 

Your veterinarian will explain the dosage of each medication that is appropriate for your dog. It depends on the medication and the size of your dog. 

If you have arthritis, too, don’t just share your prescription with your pet. Dr. Coates cautions “human arthritis medications can be very dangerous for dogs and can lead to serious side effects when given at the wrong dose, in conjunction with other medications, or to a dog with other health problems.” 

Dosage can vary dramatically between dogs, and the wrong amount can cause severe and significant side effects including “gastrointestinal ulceration and bleeding, vomiting, liver damage, kidney damage, and blood clotting disorders,” explains Dr. Coates. 

Preventing arthritis in dogs

Just like your health, prevention for your pooch is extremely important. Ensuring that your dog has regular veterinary care, a good diet, healthy amounts of exercise, and maintains a healthy weight will all support, prevent, or slow down the development of arthritis as your dog ages. 

Make sure to find and develop a relationship with a veterinarian who you and your dog trust so that you have a preexisting relationship if your dog begins to experience arthritis symptoms.