Arthritis in our Senior Dogs

Arthritis tends to affect more than 1 in 5 dogs and can really impede the quality of their lives, especially their senior years. As our dogs start to age, many age-related issues start to arise, such as arthritis.

Normal joints are lined by a layer of cartilage, which acts as a cushion and provides a smooth surface so the adjoining bones can move more freely over each other. The movement is assisted by the lubrication provided by the synovial fluid in the joints. When the cartilage around the joints starts to deteriorate and the synovial fluid starts to lose its lubrication, the movement of the joints becomes less smooth and becomes very painful for the dog.

Arthritis tends to affect the shoulders, elbows, knees and hips of dogs but can be seen in other places as well.

Signs of arthritis:

  • Limping/ Lameness
  • Difficulty rising from a resting position
  • Reluctance to walk, climb stairs, jump or play
  • Abnormal gait when walking
  • Lagging on walks
  • Yelping in pain when a particular area is touched
  • Personality or behaviour changes
  • Licking the affected area or near the area
  • Muscle atrophy

Unfortunately, this condition cannot be cured BUT can be managed effectively with the right treatment plan. Treatment focuses on trying to control the pain, reduce the inflammation, slowing the development of the disease and overall improving the quality of life.

The best results are achieved by working with your vet to develop a plan that is tailored to your dog's needs and specific issues. There are different strategies that your vet will go over with you to make life a little more happier and easier for your dog.

Some of these strategies are:

Home life – making adjustments to your dog’s life around your home. These can be from buying a suitable padded bed, keeping them away from cold, drafty and damp areas or using things to properly insulate these areas. Adding carpet or matting to areas in the house that your dog frequents and looking at installing doggy ramps inside your home as well as outside and even in your car. Warm jackets are also beneficial and one of the most important ones I feel is to make sure your dog’s nails are kept at a suitable length. Many times, I have seen dogs that struggle to walk due to the length of their nails; so please keep an eye on them.

Bodywork – This is where massage can be of most benefit especially for our elderly dogs. Massage stimulates the blood flow to the areas that are affected and also release hormones that help with pain relief. A warm compress over the affected area also helps to warm up those muscles and allow mobility to be freer.

Exercise and weight loss – Maintaining mobility and good, healthy weight is really important especially when your dog has arthritis. Exercise does depend on the extent of arthritis and it is always best to let your dog keep their own pace while also making sure they do not overexert themselves. Feeding a well-balanced, high-quality diet is also key to lessening further development of arthritis and keeps your dog healthy. Weight management needs to be monitored, as any added weight can affect how well your dog copes with arthritis as well as slowing the development of it.

Supplements – There are many supplements available that promote healthy cartilage and joint health. These can be found at our local vets as well as many pet stores. These supplements range from Green-lipped mussels, various types of oils such as Hemp and coconut, powdered blends such as Sashas Blend. Omega 3 is known for its anti-inflammatory effects and has been documented to be of help to dogs with arthritis. One thing to note is that not all supplements are the same, meaning the quality varies between different brands of the same supplement. Do your research and always ask your vet for advice if you do decide to look at supplements for your dog. 

Complementary Therapies – Such as acupuncture, reiki, herbal medicine and homeopathy. There are many qualified practitioners out there so again do your research, get recommendations and ask your vet. These therapies work effectively alongside traditional veterinary care, not as a standalone. 

Medications – Again there are many options available and your vet will recommend the best medication for your dog. Cartrophen injections are the most common treatment for arthritis as they help to stabilise the joint membrane, help joint cartilage repair and improve joint lubrication. This injection is normally given at 4 intervals over 4 weeks and then an ongoing maintenance injection every few weeks to few months depending on your dog. Tramadol is normally given for pain maintenance, however it does not help with inflammation. Steroids are also an option as they have an anti-inflammatory effect, however, long-term use is not recommended due to the potential side effects. You may have heard of Rimadyl and Metacam as well, as they are used to help with arthritis, but again limited usage is recommended.

So even though arthritis can have a major impact our dog’s lives, there are many strategies, therapies and medications out there that can help slow the development and improve the overall wellbeing of our dogs that are heading into their twilight years. Many of the strategies I mentioned can also be implemented now as preventative measures before our dogs hit their senior years. Best results are achieved with consistency and a wee bit of patience. After all, all we ever want for our dogs is for them to live happy, fulfilling, long and comfortable lives with us.


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