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By Paula Fitzsimmons
If you live with an arthritic dog, you know all too well that cooler weather can aggravate her symptoms. While there is no cure for arthritis in dogs, there are actionable, vet-recommended steps you can take to help relieve the pain, stiffness, joint popping and other dog arthritis symptoms.
Because your pup has specific health needs, always discuss any new treatment options with your veterinarian. Here are seven things you can do to help a dog with arthritis.
1. Manage Your Dog’s Weight
Veterinarians say weight control is one of the most important tools for managing arthritis in dogs. “The heavier our pets are, the more stress that gets placed on their joints. Studies have shown that keeping your dog lean can improve mobility and exercise tolerance,” says Dr. Liliana Mutascio, a veterinary surgeon with VetMed in Phoenix, Arizona.
How can you tell if your pup is overweight? Dr. Mutascio says that “Ideally, you should be able to easily feel your pet’s ribs, and your pet should have a natural waistline when viewed from above and from the side.” Having your veterinarian perform regular weight and body condition scoring checks is ultimately the best way to monitor her weight.
When consulting with your veterinarian about your dog’s diet, ask about dog hip and joint care dog food, like Hill’s Prescription Diet j/d joint care or Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets JM joint mobility.
Dr. Mutascio says prescription dog food contains ingredients like fish oil that has omega-3 fatty acids for joint health. “There is some evidence that animals on these types of diets are more comfortable and require less anti-inflammatory medication.”
2. Get Your Dog Moving
Movement can provide pain relief for dogs with arthritis, says Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, a veterinarian with Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin. “Dogs that move less due to arthritis get into a cycle of pain, causing less motion that then leads to stiffness. The stiffness makes it harder to move, which causes more pain.”
Arthritic dogs should avoid high-impact activities like running, jumping and rough playing, says Dr. Mutascio, whose clinical interests include orthopedic surgery. “Instead, consistent and regular low-impact activities like leash walks and swimming can help avoid additional joint damage, as well as improve mobility. You should strive to achieve the same level of activity each day and avoid overdoing it on weekends.”
If your dog is small or thin-haired, she may benefit from wearing a dog coat or dog sweater when it’s cold outside, says Dr. Jo Ann Morrison, a board-certified veterinary internist with Banfield Pet Hospital in the Portland, Oregon area. “But be careful when putting it on or taking it off, especially if you have to manipulate your dog’s legs. Consider coats or sweaters with Velcro attachments that wrap around, which may be easier to put on and take off.” (Examples are the Ultra Paws red plaid cozy dog coat and the Canada Pooch Everest explorer dog jacket.)
3. Consider Dog Supplements
Dog joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for dogs have natural anti-inflammatory properties, which can help ease joint pain associated with dog arthritis, says Dr. Mutascio.
The caveat is that dog supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so the amount of active ingredients can vary, she adds. “Nutramax Dasuquin and Nutramax Cosequin are good name brands formulated for dogs that can be purchased over the counter or from your veterinarian. A joint supplement called Adequan canine injectable for dogs is also available and can be administered by a veterinarian.”
Other key ingredients to look for in dog hip and joint care products are omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), phycocyanin and manganese, says Dr. Morrison. “Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your dog based on their unique needs and medical history, while keeping in mind that some dogs may do better on multiple supplements,” she advises.
4. Ask Your Veterinarian About Arthritis Pain Relief for Dogs
Some dogs may occasionally need stronger pain medicine for dog arthritis pain, especially if they over-exert themselves, says Dr. Mutascio. “A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory dog medication called Galliprant tablets for dogs recently became available and is approved for use in dogs to treat pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. You can ask your veterinarian if this or other NSAIDs such as Rimadyl chewable tablets and Metacam (Meloxicam) oral suspension for dogs are right for your pet.”
Since pain killers carry side effects, she recommends avoiding long-term use. “If your pet is on long-term pain killers, it is recommended that you visit your veterinarian regularly for checkups and blood tests to screen for systemic side effects,” she says.
5. Prevent Falls and Slipping
Falling can be especially painful for a dog with arthritis. To help your dog rise safely, consider using a sling or a dog lifting harness for additional support, offers Dr. Morrison. “Commercially available options … exist, but a large beach towel can also serve as a sling to provide support. If a sling is used, ensure it does not interfere with your dog’s ability to urinate.” (One option is the GingerLead support and rehabilitation unisex dog lifting harness.)
To prevent falls and slipping outdoors, provide surfaces that give your dog better traction. You should also check your dog’s paws to make sure they’re free of snow, ice and dirt when they make their way back inside after a trip outdoors, says Morrison.
Dr. Knabe says some dogs may benefit from the increased traction that dog socks or dog boots can offer. “These help arthritic dogs navigate smoother surfaces, as the rubber on the pad or nails acts like grippers we use on our shoes. These also help indoors on smooth flooring.” Products like Ultra Paws durable dog boots and Doggie Design non-skid dog socks provide pets with a little extra traction so they can maneuver safely.
Dog steps and ramps can also help your pup get up onto the couch or bed safely without falling.
6. Try Physical Therapy to Relieve Arthritis in Dogs
Physical therapy can relieve some of the symptoms of arthritis in dogs. A veterinary physical therapist can tailor exercises for your dog’s specific needs, helping her to achieve low-impact activity levels, says Dr. Mutascio.
“Often, an exercise regimen can be developed for use at home, with or without regular therapy appointments. Physical therapists may recommend additional therapies such as warm compress, massage and passive range of motion to help relieve discomfort and build muscle.”
Other complementary treatments, like acupuncture, may also offer some relief, she says. “Ask your veterinarian about where you can pursue these options for your pet.”
7. Provide Comfy Bedding
Comfortable bedding is important for all dogs, but is especially essential for those who suffer with arthritis, says Dr. Morrison. “This could be an orthopedic mat, a memory foam bed or an elevated platform. Some dogs prefer a low-to-the-ground option that doesn’t require stepping up or over into a bed, so it may take some trial-and-error to find the best solution for your pet.”
(Examples of orthopedic dog beds include the Frisco orthopedic sherpa cuddler and cushion dog and cat bed and the FurHaven plush and suede orthopedic sofa dog and cat bed.)
While some dogs may enjoy additional heat, others might prefer cooler temps, says Dr. Morrison. “If using a heating pad or blanket (or heated dog bed), it is critically important to always keep it on the lowest setting, and ensure the heating element does not take up their entire bed or crate. Your pet needs to be able to quickly and easily move away from the heat if it becomes too warm. It’s also imperative to ensure there is always additional bedding in between your dog and the heating element. Never allow them to lie directly on top of a supplemental heat source.”
If your dog has trouble going up and down staircases, be sure to set up your pet’s bedding appropriately so that they can nap in a comfortable spot without climbing stairs.
While these tools can provide pain relief for dogs, keep in mind that every dog has individual needs, reminds Dr. Morrison. “As such, there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for pets with arthritis. That is why it is important to monitor and keep track of what works best for your dog, what he or she does not tolerate as well—like temperature, environment and stairs—and partner with your veterinarian on their long-term care.”