As your dog is getting older, you may notice that they aren’t as mobile as they used to be. They may be slow and sluggish on walks, or take longer to get out of bed in the mornings. Arthritis and other joint inflammations are common amongst aging pets, including dogs and cats. While there is no cure for arthritis, there are many things owners can do to treat the pain and manage the symptoms.
What is arthritis?
Osteoarthritis is general term for joint inflammations. It occurs when cartilage between the joints are worn away over time. As cartilage protects the bones from rubbing against each other, the wearing away of cartilage results in swelling and pain.
Signs and Symptoms
Unlike in humans, your dog will not be able to tell you if they are in pain. Here are some signs you can look out for to see if your day may have arthritis:
- Slowness when going up and down stairs, or when rising up from a seated position
- A slight but persistent limp, especially after exercise
- Licking a particular limb more often than usual, which can be a sign that that limb is bothering them
- Avoiding activities they once enjoyed, such as jumping on furniture or going on long walks
- A loss in appetite and general grumpiness or depression
If you notice these symptoms appearing in your dog, early treatment is key to managing the disease. Don’t be surprised if some of these symptoms show up in a much younger dog – arthritis can affect pets of all ages, not only senior pets. Visit your veterinarian and get an official diagnosis before starting treatment.
Things you can do to help your dog
1) Maintain a Healthy Weight
As arthritis is swelling of the joints, any additional weight on your dog’s joints will cause extra strain and pain. Your dog may be also getting heavier as long walks and exercise may feel uncomfortable for them. Check that your dog’s weight is within the normal ranges for their size and breed. Use a mix of diet and low-impact exercise to reduce their weight if necessary.
2) Modify your Exercise Routine
The long walks and runs that your dog may be used to will likely need to change as their mobility worsens. Trade in those long walks for shorter, more frequent walks and low-impact activities on soft surface, such as grass and carpet. Staying active is very important for your dog, as it keeps muscles strong and improves circulation. So keep encouraging your dog to be active to prevent the joints from becoming more stiff.
3) Regular Vet Visits
Go to the vet more often for regular monitoring and assessments. Pain medications and treatments which were effective in the early stages of the disease may not be effective as the disease progresses. Regular vet visits will allow your veterinarian to make changes to the care plan as needed.
4) Lay out rugs and carpets to prevent slipping
As your dog’s mobility worsens, their risk of slipping and falling increases. Covering up slick surfaces with rugs and carpets are a great way to prevent falls, as well as provide soft surfaces for your dog to lie on. In addition, rugs can be easily cleaned or replaced if they get dirty or soiled, making clean up easier.
5) Acupuncture and Massages
Acupuncture for pets? That may sound crazy but acupuncture has proven to help pets who suffer from arthritis. Acupuncture can reduce pain and release endorphins, making it the perfect complement to your vet-approved treatments and medications. Massages do not only benefit humans, their canine-companions love it as well. Regular massages can improve flexibility and mobility, both of which may be impacted by their arthritis. Check with your vet to ensure that these treatments are appropriate for your dog.
6) Consider a Ramp
Your dogs may not be making their usual jumps onto the couch or the bed anymore. This is because those jumps are extremely painful to their joints, aggravating their arthritis. But arthritis doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to snuggle with your dog. Place some steps or a ramp by the bed to help them up and reduce strain to knees and hips. Ensure that the ramps are not too steep for your dog and carpeted to prevent slipping.
7) Raise their Water and Food Bowls
You may not know it but your dog may be straining their neck and back when they are drinking water or eating their food from their bowls on the ground. Raising their water and food bowls will reduce the strain, making it appropriate for arthritic dogs. The height should be easily assessable and comfortable for your dog when they are sitting or standing. This may not be appropriate for dogs who are prone to bloating so please check with your veterinarian before making this change.
8) Keep them Warm and Cozy
Cold and dampness can really aggravate a dog’s arthritis, making their joints stiff and sore. Whenever your dog’s pain is flaring up, giving them some extra warmth can help with their aches. Similar to humans, a hot water bottle or a warm heating pad can provide a lot of relief.
9) Provide a Supportive Bed
Lying on the hard floor provides little to no support to bones and joints, causing painful pressure points. Ensure that your dog’s bed is soft and provides adequate support as they sleep or when they lay around during the day. Consider investing in a memory foam or orthopedic dog bed to help them out.
10) Consider a Homemade Diet
Many of the ingredients found in commercial dog food can cause inflammation and aggravate arthritis in dogs, such as grain or potatoes (excluding sweet potato). It may be hard to find dog food which excludes these ingredients, so consider making a few homemade meals instead. Celery, ginger, mango and cartilage are foods which may help your dog with their arthritis and reduce inflammation. Ensure that all the vegetables are cooked or pureed so your dog can easily digest it.
Due to the pain, your dog may be losing their appetite and may not be getting all the nutrition they need. Include supplements with their food, such as fish oil and Vitamin E. Fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which can help reduce inflammation. Vitamin E is great for general dog health and also has some anti-inflammatory benefits.
As an owner, there are many things you can do to help your aging dog manage their arthritis and pain, so they can lead a comfortable and happy life in their golden years!