Osteoarthritis is a complex progressive disease caused by joint inflammation, cartilage breakdown, chronic bone changes, and loss of mobility1 that results from abnormal wear and tear on a joint. Despite arthritis in dogs being a progressive disease, and having no cure, with the correct care and support your dog can still lead a fulfilling and mostly pain free life.
Will my dog be affected?
Any dog can be affected, however symptoms are often worse in older, obese, working, athletic, or large breed dogs. In addition, dogs with conditions that affect cartilage, such as certain hormonal conditions like cushings, hypothyroidism, or diabetes mellitus, can be at increased risk.
Additionally, if your dog has an injury or certain genetic disorders, such as conformational disorders like hip and elbow dysplasia, they can become predisposed to the development of arthritis. Rarely, infections (such as septic arthritis or tick-borne disease) or inflammatory conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis) can cause arthritis.
Understanding the signs
The signs of arthritis are varied, so it is important to keep a close eye on your dog, noticing any abnormalities in their behaviour or general everyday habits. Key signs that your dog may be suffering from arthritis can include limping, difficulty getting up, exercise intolerance, stiffness after laying down, abnormal gait or short strides, bunny-hopping, decrease in energy, not playing as much, lagging behind on walks, sleeping more, muscle atrophy, swollen joints, loss of appetite, whimpering, or aggressive behaviour. If you notice any of the symptoms listed, please visit your veterinarian for a full physical exam as soon as possible.
The unfortunate and eventual outcome for many older dogs is often euthanasia due to the chronic pain, loss of mobility, and reduced quality of life. But by being in tune with your dog’s condition and keeping track of their symptoms, you can tailor their care to ensure that your dog leads a comfortable life.
Caring for your arthritic
If your dog has been diagnosed with an injury such as a cranial cruciate, ligament rupture, or a developmental disorder such as hip or elbow dysplasia, pursuing surgical correction before arthritis sets in is the best option. If your dog is already suffering from arthritis, there is an array of options for treatment, including anti-inflammatories, laser treatments, physical therapy, stem cell therapy, and platelet-rich-plasma therapy. Your veterinarian will be your best resource to determine which combination of therapies best fit your pet and your budget.
In addition to the therapies mentioned above, there are natural ways that you can help your pet at home. Here are 5 key ways dog owners can help their pets with arthritis naturally.
By far the most important thing pet owners can do for their dogs that have arthritis is to ensure that they maintain a healthy weight. Weight control also helps to prevent arthritis, as less weight to bear reduces wear and tear on the joints. Obesity predisposes dogs to arthritis, so be sure to keep track of your pet’s waistline.
Studies have shown an arthritic dog’s condition will improve significantly with weight loss alone2. A dog is at an ideal weight when you can feel its ribs, but not see them. Always assess your dog’s body condition when your dog is standing, if their ribs feel like the back of your hand then their weight will most likely be just right. If the ribs feel like your palm, then they may be carrying too much fat, but if the ribs feel like your knuckles, then they are likely to be too thin.
Omega 6 and 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 is found in soybean and canola oils, flaxseeds, walnuts, and fish oils, whereas 6 is found in safflower, corn, soybean, and sunflower oils as well as in meat. Your dog’s diet will be naturally low in 3 and relatively high in 6. Studies suggest that high 3 intake could have a beneficial effect on cartilage metabolism and act as an anti-inflammatory 3. The best source of 3 fatty acids for dogs is high quality fish oil supplement, which is high in beneficial EPA and DHA.
Green Lipped Mussel
Green-lipped mussel can help alleviate some of your dog's arthritic symptoms. A 2002 study showed that studied dog’s total arthritic score, joint pain, and joint swelling at the beginning and end of a six week period of taking Green Lipped Mussel daily4. At the end of the study the majority of dogs showed significant improvements in all areas5. Try administering Green Lipped Mussel to your dog daily diet to see if it can have the same benefits for them6.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
In dogs glucosamine and chondroitin are thought to be anti-inflammatory and have chondro-protective properties, that is, they protect healthy cartilage. Their chondroprotective action can be explained by a dual mechanism: as basic components of cartilage and synovial fluid, they stimulate the new-cartilage growth, and their anti-inflammatory action can delay inflammation in the cartilage. These two mechanisms are able to slow the progression of cartilage destruction and may help to regenerate the joint structure, leading to reduced pain and increased mobility of your dog’s affected joints7.
Supportive Sleeping Surface
A good bed with appropriate padding and support can literally add months of quality life for an older dog suffering from arthritis. Choose thick memory foam padding to prevent pain from pressure points on hard surfaces. A raised bed that your dog can ‘walk off of’ is easier than a low bed from which your dog has to raise himself.
Whilst there is nothing you can physically do as a dog owner to cure your dog’s arthritis, making these simple additions to your dog's lifestyle can certainly reduce their feelings of pain or discomfort: making for a much happier pet. For more advice on how to care for your dog, or natural treatments explore our articles.
1 Bierer TL, Bui LM. Improvement of arthritic signs in dogs fed green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus). J Nutr. 2002 Jun;132(6 Suppl 2):1634S-6S.
2 William G. Marshall, Herman A. W. Hazewinkel. Dermot Mullen. Geert De Meyer, Katrien Baert, and Stuart Carmichael. The effect of weight loss on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet Res Commun. 2010 Mar; 34(3): 241–253. Published online 2010 Mar 17. doi: 10.1007/s11259-010-9348-7.
3 Arita M, Bianchini F, Aliberti J, Sher A, Chiang N, Hong S, Yang R, Petasis NA, Serhan CN. Stereochemical assignment, antiinflammatory properties, and receptor for the omega-3 lipid mediator resolvin E1. J Exp Med. 2005;201:713–722. doi: 10.1084/jem.20042031.
4 Bui LM, Pawlowski K, Bierer TL. The influence of green-lipped mussel powder (Perna Caniculus) on alleviating arthritic signs in dogs. FASEB J. 2000;14(4):A218 [Abstract 160.9].
5 Brien S, Prescott P, Coghlan B, Bashir N, Lewith G. Systematic review of the nutritional supplement Perna Canaliculus (green-lipped mussel) in the treatment of osteoarthritis. QJM. 2008 Mar;101(3):167-79.
6 Treschow AP, Hodges LD, Wright PF, Wynne PM, Kalafatis N, Macrides TA. Novel anti-inflammatory omega-3 PUFAs from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel, Perna canaliculus. Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 2007 Aug;147(4):645-56.
7 Jörg Jerosch. Effects of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate on Cartilage Metabolism in OA: Outlook on Other Nutrient Partners Especially Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Int J Rheumatol. 2011; 2011: 969012. Published online 2011 Aug 2. doi: 10.1155/2011/969012.
Sarah Wooten is a small animal veterinarian and certified veterinary journalist. She is a 2002 graduate of the prestigious School of Veterinary Medicine at University of California in Davis. She practices in Greeley, Colorado part time at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital and writes for multiple online and print publications.