By Aly Semigran
Arthritis (or more specifically, osteoarthritis) in dogs is a common condition that occurs in many canines as a result of injury, developmental disorders, or the wear and tear of aging. This painful ailment is caused by abnormal changes in a dog’s joints and results in chronic inflammation. Dogs suffering from arthritis may experience mild discomfort or severe pain but the condition gets worse over time, which makes treatment a priority for pet parents.
As part of their treatment plan, veterinarians will often recommend certain prescription pain medications or, possibly, a change in diet to help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis in canines. But if you’re searching for an alternative to prescription pain medications, there are natural treatments that may help pet owners manage arthritis pain in their dogs.
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Arthritis?
Arthritis has varying effects on dogs.
Dr. Clay Bernard, TCVM, of Even Flow Veterinary and Acupuncture in Austin, Texas tells petMD, the signs of arthritis can depend on “the dog's size, age, chronicity of the condition, tolerance for discomfort, his or her immune system, and the extent of his or her activity level.”
Bernard points out that dog parents may notice signs of arthritis including pets who limp or are slower to rise after lying down and less tolerant of long walks. Dogs with arthritis may no longer jump on or off furniture and they may be reluctant to climb the stairs or chase a ball in the backyard.
Dr. Jennifer Luna-Repose of Alternatives For Animals in Lafayette, California, notes that other signs of arthritis in dogs are less obvious. These may include sleeping more than usual, weight gain, loss of muscle mass, depression, or poor appetite.
Some dogs may have different responses to their arthritis in hotter temperatures or cooler temperatures. Pet parents may also notice a change in temperament in arthritic dogs—particularly when they are touched in sensitive areas.
If pet parents think their dogs may have arthritis, a visit to the veterinarian is recommended. “Even the most obvious signs of arthritis can also be the result of other medical conditions,” Luna-Repose points out. “The diagnosis of arthritis should always be made by a veterinarian.”
Natural Treatments for Arthritis Pain in Dogs: Exploring Your Options
While your vet knows best, occasionally the pain medications prescribed to dogs suffering from arthritis may have negative effects. Arthritis medication can cause damage to a dog’s internal organs, explains Dr. Darla Rewers, DVM, of the Ancient Arts Holistic Veterinary Team.
“Dogs on arthritis pain meds often need regular bloodwork to check liver and kidney values. NSAIDs and steroids can cause stomach ulcers, too,” she says.
That’s why natural treatments may be an alternative option for concerned pet owners.
Natural Herbs and Supplements to Help Arthritis in Dogs
The type of natural arthritis product will vary for dogs based on their needs, but there are many alternative medications and supplements available. Pet owners should consult a holistic veterinarian or a veterinarian trained in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Herbal Medicine before giving herbs or supplements to their pets.
Some notable Chinese herbal formulas used to help with arthritis in dogs include Ligusticum (a natural pain reliever), Corydalis (relieves aches and discomfort), and Hindquarter Weakness (an herbal blend that strengthens an animal’s hind legs).
“The ancient Indian herbs, turmeric and boswellia are fantastic anti-inflammatories” Bernard notes, “And so are the omega-3 fatty acids found in krill, sardine, or flaxseed oils. Supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM can help preserve and nourish the cartilage that becomes damaged in the affected joints.”
As a natural preventative measure to help ward of arthritis in dogs, Luna-Repose also recommends bone broth as an inexpensive way to help build your dog’s cartilage and protect his joints.
Acupuncture for Arthritis: Potential Benefits for Dogs
Luna-Repose also recommends that dog owners consider veterinary acupuncture as an option for helping to relieve arthritis pain in pets naturally. “It works by stimulating nerves, increasing blood circulation, relieving muscle spasms, and causing the release of hormones such as endorphins (one of the body’s pain control chemicals) and cortisol (a natural steroid),” she says. In addition, the process is nearly pain free for dogs.
Bernard says that a dog receiving acupuncture treatments to relieve arthritis pain will start experiencing benefits after multiple visits. “The effects start to last longer and longer, and the body returns to balance,” he says.
Other Natural Options for Managing Arthritis Pain in Dogs
In addition to natural herbs, supplements and acupuncture treatments, some veterinarians recommend low level laser therapy to assist with arthritis pain in dogs. This procedure, says Luna-Repose, uses specific wavelengths of light to create therapeutic effects. “These effects include improved wound healing time, pain reduction, increased circulation, and decreased swelling,” she says.
Luna-Repose also notes that the FDA-cleared Assisi Loop—which is similar to laser therapy, but can be used at home by pet parents with a prescription—uses targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (tPEMT) to aid in the body’s own natural anti-inflammatory process. “It enhances nitric oxide production to help speed healing of soft and hard tissues including skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, and organs,” she says. TENS (transcutaneous electrical stimulation) or extracorporeal shock wave therapy are other commonly recommended complementary treatments for dogs with arthritis.
Trying canine massage or enrolling your dog in aquatic therapy or other forms of physical therapy may also be options for helping relieve arthritis pain. Pet parents can use professional canine massage therapists or learn massage techniques to try at home. Luna-Repose says that massage therapy can help stimulate circulation, reduce the effects of stress, release endorphins, and reduce trigger points in dogs. In addition, the weight-lessening environment of water can help arthritic dogs stay active and build muscle while swimming or working on an underwater treadmill, she says.
The Importance of Diet and Weight Management for Arthritic Dogs
When it comes to any chronic inflammatory condition, a healthy, balanced diet is a key component in recovery and management, especially since dog obesity can be commonly linked to arthritis.
“I always recommend fresh, species-specific food for my patients, like raw or home-cooked diets,” Bernard says. “Probiotics are a must since inflammation in the body often starts with how well food is received by the gut bacteria.” Pet owners should consult their veterinarians before starting their dogs on a raw or home-cooked food since many of these diets have been shown to be contaminated with bacteria and/or nutritionally incomplete.
Keeping your dog as active as possible will also help keep weight off, which is an essential step in managing arthritis pain in dogs. “A heavy body weight means more pressure on the joints,” Rewers says. Even if your dog has difficulty moving, try short, frequent walks or play games—like hide and seek—in the house to keep dogs active.
Any pet parent who is considering natural arthritis treatments for their pets that involve dietary or lifestyle changes should always consult with a trusted veterinarian to determine the best plan for pain management and treatment in your dog.