Joint pain associated with osteoarthritis is a common issue for pets. The disease affects an estimated 1 in 4 dogs (1). Factors associated with osteoarthritis include genetics, breed or body shape, developmental joint disorders, joint injury, and abnormal stresses on the joint (e.g., overweight dogs).
It’s easier to spot later signs of osteoarthritis, such as limping, stiffness, or refusing to walk, jump or climb stairs, but you can help your dog by spotting it early. Early signs of osteoarthritis in dogs may include moving more slowly and lagging behind on walks. Your dog may sit or lie down awkwardly or occasionally hesitate to jump or climb.
What Causes Dog Joint Pain Associated with Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, which means it gets worse over time. Developmental problems, such abnormal growth of the hip or elbow joints (dysplasias), are among the most common causes. These issues are often seen in younger dogs. Other common causes of osteoarthritis include trauma and joint injury, which can affect dogs of any age. Even though osteoarthritis can start early in life, at present, it is still more common for veterinarians to diagnose this condition in older dogs. Age-related wear and tear could be a factor in this but also because the signs of osteoarthritis gradually get worse and are more noticeable in older dogs.
Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage in the joint is damaged. Eventually, this causes changes associated with osteoarthritis that result in inflammation, pain, and abnormal gait (the way your dog walks).
If you think your dog is experiencing pain, your first step should be reaching out to your veterinarian. He or she will help you figure out a pain management plan that best suits your dog’s needs.
7 Ways to Help Ease Dog Joint Pain Associated with Osteoarthritis
Depending on your dog’s needs, your veterinarian may recommend a variety of therapies to help control pain and inflammation and other ways to improve your dog’s comfort. These include pain medications, supplements, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes, among other options.
Here are some potential ways to help ease your dog’s joint pain:
A Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for dogs are considered the cornerstone of osteoarthritis treatment for dogs. If your dog is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, your veterinarian may prescribe NSAIDs to help control his pain and inflammation.
Never give your dog a pain medication that has not been explicitly prescribed or recommended by your veterinarian. Human over-the-counter pain medications, like Tylenol or Advil, can be dangerous for dogs. Always speak to your veterinarian first and follow their instructions.
One of the most effective steps you can take for the long-term health of your dog is to help him maintain or achieve a healthy body weight. Extra weight puts unnecessary pressure on the joints, which can increase inflammation and pain, and fat tissue itself can lead to more inflammation. In one study, feeding dogs a quantity-restricted diet kept them at a lower body weight, reduced the rate of hip dysplasia, and also delayed the onset of osteoarthritis (2). Keeping your dog at a healthy weight may also help lower the risk of medical conditions such as diabetes, elevated blood pressure, respiratory disease, kidney disease, and some forms of cancer (3). Work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate feeding plan and exercise program.
Exercise and Rehabilitation
Gentle exercise is extremely good for your dog. It is important for keeping joints moving and it also helps to keep his weight under control. However, in dogs with joint pain, it’s imperative not to overdo it, exercise-wise. Your vet can recommend lower-impact activities for your dog, since high-impact activities, such as too much jumping or running, could make the pain worse. He or she may also refer you to a canine rehabilitation specialist, who will use therapeutic exercises to increase your dog’s range of motion and build muscle strength.
Dog Food Designed to Support Joint Health
To help support your dog’s joint health, your veterinarian may prescribe a “joint diet.” This entails feeding your dog a pet food containing increased levels of ingredients such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Some have a low-calorie formulation, which can help dogs with a tendency to gain weight.
Veterinarians usually recommend a gradual transition to new foods. Your veterinarian will provide you with specific guidance, such as what to feed, how much food to give, and for how long. Many of these specially-formulated foods contain fish oil (more on this to come), so you should work with your veterinarian to make sure your dog isn’t getting too much fat in his diet.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil is a popular dietary supplement and rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. It may help support dog joint health, heart health, and the immune system.
Work with your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to determine the appropriate amount of fish oil for your dog. It is also important to make sure that you are giving your dog a product of the right quality. If your dog is on a joint diet, he may already be receiving fish oil supplements, so that amount should be taken into account. Fish oils are sources of fat, which is essential for the dog’s body. However, excessive fat intake through diet and supplements can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and weight gain. Fish oil may not be appropriate for some dogs, such as those with a history of pancreatitis. Your veterinarian can also help ensure your dog is getting the proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Your dog’s breath might smell a little fishy while he’s taking the supplements, but other than that, fish oil is usually very safe when used as recommended by your veterinarian.
Helpful Changes at Home
There are other steps you can take at home to help ease your dog’s joint pain. For example, an orthopedic dog bed can help support your dog’s body when he sleeps. When shopping for beds, consider your dog’s size, favorite sleeping position, and bed-wetting tendencies. Some dog beds are washable and water resistant. Ramps can also make it more comfortable for your dog to get around, such as when getting on and off the bed or couch or in and out of the car. Non-slip rugs and mats can provide extra grip as your dog walks around the house, especially if you have slippery floors like hardwood.
Your veterinarian may suggest complementary therapies, such as therapeutic laser, acupuncture, massage, or electrical stimulation, to help manage your pet’s pain, reduce inflammation, and improve mobility.
Remember to discuss these potential ways to ease your dog’s joint pain associated with osteoarthritis with your veterinarian first.
Galliprant is an NSAID that controls pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis in dogs.
Galliprant Importance Safety Information
Not for use in humans. Keep out of reach of children and pets. Monitoring is recommended if used long term. Should not be used in dogs who are allergic to grapiprant or with other anti-inflammatory drugs. The safe use of Galliprant has not been studied in dogs younger than 9 months of age and less than 8 pounds, breeding, pregnant or lactating dogs, or dogs with heart disease. The most common adverse reactions were vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite and tiredness. View full product label for complete safety information or contact your veterinarian.
- Lascelles D. Joint pain in pet dogs and cats. IASP fact sheet. 2016.
- Smith GK, Paster ER, Powers MY, et al. Lifelong diet restriction and radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip joint in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2006;229(5):690-693. doi:10.2460/javma.229.5.690
- Loftus JP, Wakshlag JJ. Canine and feline obesity: a review of pathophysiology, epidemiology, and clinical management. Vet Med (Auckl). 2014;6:49-60. doi:10.2147/VMRR.S40868
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