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How to Treat Arthritis and Joint Pain in Dogs

Reviewed for accuracy on August 19, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

Arthritis will afflict most dogs as they age, especially now that dogs are living longer than ever.

However, the subtle signs of joint pain can be tricky for dog owners to detect, and it doesn’t help that and dogs tend to hide their soreness and discomfort too. In many cases, the arthritic changes in joints aren’t detected by pet parents or veterinarians until they have become severe.

If there are calcium deposits, instances of scar tissue, areas with missing or torn cartilage, or changes to the bones at the joint surface, these abnormalities will remain present and will continue to affect your pet.

Regardless, there are several ways you can make life a little easier for your arthritic dog.

How to Support Treatment of Arthritis in Dogs

It’s difficult to remodel an arthritic joint without surgical intervention, but you can attempt to reduce joint inflammation and pain. This will make your dog more comfortable even if the underlying arthritic changes remain.

Here are some of the most common ways to manage arthritis pain in dogs.

Disclaimer: Many of the medications discussed below can have significant side effects when used improperly or in especially sensitive individuals. Never give your pet any prescription or over-the-counter medication or supplement without first consulting your veterinarian. 

Prescription Medications for Arthritis Pain in Dogs

For certain dogs, prescription medication may be needed to help successfully manage the pain of arthritic joints.

Here are a few of the options your veterinarian might consider.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs can have noticeable, beneficial effects for dogs with joint pain. However, NSAIDs that are intended for human use have a high incidence of potentially serious side effects in dogs.

NSAIDs like Etogesic, Rimadyl, Metacam and Deramaxx have been designed specifically for dogs and are much safer than drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin.

However, these “doggy” NSAIDs can still cause gastrointestinal upset, and in rare cases, liver or kidney dysfunction.

Galliprant is a newer NSAID that is considered to be safer on the kidneys in older dogs and is being used much more frequently by veterinarians.

NSAID use in dogs should always be supervised by a veterinarian.

Other Prescription Pain Relievers

Other pain-relieving medications like tramadol, amantadine and gabapentin may be prescribed by veterinarians, particularly if a dog’s arthritis is severe or does not respond to other forms of treatment.

Corticosteroids

Prednisone, dexamethasone and other corticosteroids will markedly reduce swelling and inflammation in arthritic joints. However, there is a downside to the use of steroids for long-term palliation of arthritis, which is why veterinarians don’t prescribe corticosteroids for arthritis in dogs as often as they used to in the past.

These medications can actually contribute to additional joint damage and breakdown and have other, unwanted side effects. Also, corticosteroids can interact badly with other medications that are commonly used in the treatment of arthritis.

Nutritional Supplements for Joint Support in Dogs

It’s important to note that no nutritional supplement will correct structural damage to a dog's joints (this is true in humans as well).

By their nature, nutritional supplements (also called nutraceuticals) are substances that are consumed orally as an addition to a normal diet.

Today, the most commonly used ingredients in pet joint health supplements are glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, green lipped mussels, omega-3 fatty acids and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).

Side effects are almost unheard of as long as they are used in reasonable amounts. Stomach upset is possible, particularly at higher doses, but generally resolves as a dog’s digestive system adjusts.

With traditional drugs, dogs typically demonstrate improved comfort almost immediately. Conversely, dog joint supplements may take several weeks to months of administration before there’s a noticeable improvement in mobility and attitude.

And while high-quality supplements are very safe, they tend to work best in combination with other forms of arthritis treatment.

Additional Arthritis Treatment Options for Dogs

Prescription medications and nutritional supplements aren’t the only forms of treatment available for arthritis in dogs.

Physical therapy, weight management, acupuncture, cold laser treatments, surgery and other options can also improve a pet’s comfort and mobility.

Recently, there has been a surge of interest in the use of CBD products to help ease arthritis symptoms in dogs. The research is still in its early stages, but many veterinarians are eager to see if CBD can be a useful tool in battling joint pain in dogs.

Talk to your veterinarian about how your dog might benefit from different arthritis treatment options.

By T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM

Featured Image: iStock.com/Bigandt_Photography