Treating Arthritis In Senior Dogs

When it comes to treating arthritis in senior dogs, giving anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-killers are often the first things that come to mind.

Treating arthritis in older dogs

But arthritis relief for dogs comes in many different forms, and there are lots of other things you can do to keep your pet happy and comfortable, and to help him make the best of every single day.

These include simple life-style changes, innovative products and natural therapies/supplements.

NSAIDS  (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) still have a role to play, especially in severe cases, but it's good to know that they are not the only option you have.

An diagnosis of canine arthritis doesn't have to mean that your senior's quality of life is going to go downhill. 

With the right treatment and management, he/she can still enjoy a full (and reasonably active) life!

Early Diagnosis Makes A Difference

The earlier your dog's arthritis is diagnosed, the better it is for him.

This is because the right treatments can help slow down the progression of the disease, and increases the number of 'good years' he has to enjoy.

The earliest symptoms of canine arthritis can be quite subtle, and worsen very gradually, so as your dog ages it's important to be aware of the signs of potential trouble brewing.

CLICK HERE to find out what to look for, then come back to keep reading.

Lifestyle Care For Arthritic Dogs

Senior dogs with osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis usually caused by 'wear and tear') often suffer from stiffness, pain, difficulty jumping/running, lameness, leg weakness and loss of muscle mass.

Diet, weight, activity level/type and general health can all either improve, or worsen, his condition and these are areas where simple changes in lifestyle, care and habits can make a big difference....

Keep Your Dog 'Lean'

I don't mean that you need to starve Fido, or deprive  him, but it IS important to make sure that he's at a healthy weight!

Carrying around a bunch of excess pounds is going to put extra stress on joints that are already in trouble. Plus fat produces hormones that can increase pain levels - a double whammy.

Your vet can help you figure out what your dog should weigh, and evaluate his current size. Basically you want your senior to have a 'waist' and you should be able to feel his ribs under just a little 'padding'.

Check out this link for more help figuring out whether your dog is underweight, overweight or just about right.... How To Evaluate Your Dog's Weight

Choosing a premium dog food that has the right combination of nutrients can make keeping your dog at a healthy weight a lot easier.

Dog food designed for 'senior dogs' isn't always the best choice, a lot depends on your dog's current weight, general health and activity level.

This page makes it easy to pick the perfect food for your older dog.... Understanding Senior Dog Nutrition

Tailor Exercise To Suit His Needs

Obviously most older dogs aren't as energetic, supple or strong as they used to be, but that doesn't mean they should become couch potatoes!


If your older dog has been inactive for some time, his 'comfort zone' for exercise may be much too small!

In this situation you will need to push him just a little so that he actually gets the benefit of some activity, but never to the point of exhaustion or pain.

If you're in doubt, check with your veterinarian first to make sure you know what his capabilities and limits are.

The most important thing to remember when you're exercising your arthritic dog is that you're aiming for LOW IMPACT activities only.

This means something which doesn't involve your dog pounding along on a hard surface, or jumping. 

Also, keep walks reasonably short and don't push your golden oldie beyond his comfort zone.

The aim of exercising an arthritic dog isn't just to strengthen the joints and ligaments, but to help keep his heart and lungs healthy and maintain muscle mass and tone.

Here are some ideas that might help:

  • A slow-but-steady walk daily walk - strolling around the block (or a few blocks) once or twice a day is a good way to start and should become a staple of Fido's daily routine.

  • Playing games - a round of 'hide-and-seek', some easy tug-o-war, even a short toss of the ball. These are all fun for your dog and won't put stress on achy joints. Don't throw a frisbee or ball that he has to jump for, or throw it so far that he has to race across the yard though.

  • Swimming - swimming is great exercise for dogs with arthritis (and injuries, mobility issues etc). The water helps support his body weight too, which is an added bonus.

  • Take a doggie carrier or stroller with you - this works best for small dogs because let's face it, you can't physically carry a 60lb dog in a sling... and dog strollers are designed for small to medium sized dogs at most. They're a great way to give your dog some rest when he's 'had enough' but still allow him to be out-and-about with you.

  • Use a dog sling - there are specially designed slings which you can use to help support your dog's weight while allowing him to move around. These are usually only necessary  for dogs with severe mobility issues, but can make life easier for any dog who is very stiff or has difficulty walking or rising from a lying down position.

Protect Those Joints!

One of the main causes of osteoarthritis in older dogs is the deterioration of cartilage in the joints,  so it makes sense to do whatever you can to protect said joints!

Certain natural supplements can help. Those containing Glucosamine or Chondroitin are often helpful, because these are both found in natural cartilage and can aid in the repair damaged joints and relieve discomfort.

Methylsulfonylmethane is a natural pain reliever (without the side effects of pain medications) and can be used instead of NSAID's.

Here are a few examples of products you might want to check out.

Another natural supplement you may want to take a look at is:

Extend - Joint Care For Dogs

Made from a blend of pure, human-grade ingredients including Glucosamine, Methylsulfonylmethane, Ascorbic acid and Collagen.

Tasty, beef-flavored powder that can be added to your senior dog's food.

Specifically formulated to support, heal and strengthen joints, cartilage and bone in senior dogs.


Just because a product is 'natural' doesn't mean that it is necessarily 100% safe, or that it won't interact with other medications or supplements, or health conditions.

For example, blood thinners can alter the speed and way in which other medications/supplements are absorbed into the body.

Always check with your vet BEFORE giving your dog any OTC medication or supplement to make sure that it's safe for your dog.

Here's a look at some of the mobility products I mentioned earlier as well. Dog wheelchairs,slings, strollers and carriers.... click on any image to learn more or view similar products.

Senior dogs tend to spend a LOT of time sleeping or napping, so making sure that your dog has the comfiest bed possible is a great way to help ease those arthritic joints.

BUT a very soft bed isn't the best choice. Older dogs do best on a firm bed which supports their body weight evenly. Orthopedic, or memory foam, dog beds are perfect for this.

My Orthopedic Dog Beds page has tons of info. on these and examples of some of the best choices available.

Other useful products include Dog Ramps and Dog Steps

Slippery floors make it difficult for older dogs, large/giant breeds, and those with mobility issues to get around.

Their paws can't get a grip and their legs slide all over the place.

This isn't just uncomfortable. It can aggravate arthritic or damaged joints and even cause falls or other injuries.

If you have tile or wood floor, it's a good idea to add non-skid scatter rugs or carpet runners to at least the main traffic areas of your home for safety.

Alternative Therapies 

Alternative therapies for treating arthritis can be used in conjunction with medications and/or lifestyle changes to give Fido even more relief.

These include:

Acupuncture - the placement of acupuncture needles is designed to release pain-blocking chemicals in the body (endorphins) and increase blood supply to the area.

Both of these can help ease the pain and stiffness of arthritic joints.

Massage - massage is another way to increase blood supply to certain areas of your dog's body, and encourage the release of those useful endorphins.

It can also loosen muscles and ligaments which have tensed up due to pain or lack of use.

Medications & Veterinary Treatment

Depending on the severity of your dog's arthritis, and his prognosis, your veterinarian may recommend certain medications. 

Like all drugs, these all have side-effects and contra-indications, but for a dog who is in pain (and who hasn't managed to find relief from other options) they're often necessary... and can be a blessing.

The best thing I can suggest is to discuss things with your own veterinarian and ask all the questions you want to.

Make sure you understand the pros and cons of any medication, what side-effects you need to watch out for, the exact recommendations for dosage etc. etc.

Then monitor your dog very carefully while he's taking it.

Here's a quick look at some of the most popular veterinary medication choices for treating arthritis in senior dogs:


By prescription only. Needs to be given as an intramuscular injection (it is not an oral medication).

Anti-inflammatory. Helps rebuild cartilage, improve density of the fluid which cushions your dogs joints, and can even slow down the degenerative process.

Most common side effect is that it can cause a dog to bleed more easily.

Prescribed with caution for dogs with kidney or liver disease. Not suitable for pregnant, or nursing dogs... or those used for breeding.


Rimadyl has been a very popular NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) used to treat arthritis in dogs of all ages, because it is effective.

But, it is a drug that can cause some very serious side-effects, and has seen some changes in the way it's prescribed over the years.

Today, this medication is best prescribed for dogs with chronic/severe arthritis, and is no longer recommended as a more general pain-reliever.

It is a good idea to make sure that your vet tests your dog's blood for raised liver enzymes before prescribing Rimadyl.

Elevated liver enzymes may mean that your dog is developing a liver problem, which would mean that he shouldn't take this drug.

A mildly upset tummy can be a side effect of taking Rimadyl, but generally this isn't anything to worry about.

BUT there are side effects that could mean your dog is having a serious reaction. If you notice any of these you need to stop giving it to your dog, and have him examined by your veterinarian immediately!

These include:

  • Change in eating or drinking habits
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or black, 'tarry' stools
  • Change in urination (more/less/odor/darker)
  • Loss of co-ordination, weakness, stumbling, collapse

Here's a link to a wonderful page with the most comprehensive info. on possible Rimadyl reactions that I've seen.

If your senior dog is taking this medication to treat his arthritis, I'd recommend bookmarking this page for future reference.... Adverse Reactions To Rimadyl


Previcox is another popular anti-inflammatory medication, this one was specifically developed for veterinary use.

It helps to reduce the inflammation of canine arthritis and ease the pain that goes along with it.

Like all NSAID's, Previcox can have side effects. Usually they're mild, but some can be serious, even life-threatening.

The symptoms of dangerous side-effects are similar to those above (for Rimadyl). They include abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea or stools, black tarry stools, jaundice (yellowing of skin/eyes), unexplained weight gain, unusual bruising, weakness/fatigue/loss of co-ordination... and more.

Again, if you notice ANY of these symptoms, or your dog just doesn't seem well while taking Previcox, stop giving it to him and get veterinary help right away.


Tramadol is a pain-killer, but it's of the 'opiate' family rather than an NSAID (it works in a way similar to Morphine).

It doesn't have the anti-inflammatory properties of NSAID's, but it doesn't have many of the more serious side-effects that they do either.

It can be a good choice for dogs who have health conditions that mean they can't use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, or for those whose arthritis is less severe.

Of course, there are side effects, and one of them is that Tramadol can become addictive. But as long as you follow your veterinarian's advice, the risk of this isn't high.

Other side-effects include constipation, nausea, dizziness, weakness, panting, changes in heart rate, constricted pupils.

An overdose will produce much more serious side effects and could be fatal. These include anxiety (panting, pacing, sweating), shallow breathing and/or slow heartbeat, seizures, collapse, hallucinations.

Other types of drugs are sometimes prescribed as well, they might be used in place of an NSAID or painkiller, or in conjunction with other medications.

These might include anti-depressants, narcotic pain killers, corticosteroids, certain antibiotics and natural supplements/products.


Research seems to indicate that senior dogs experience more side-effects and reactions to medications than younger dogs do.

This may be partly due to the fact that they are much more likely to have existing health conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes and so on), and may also be taking other medications to treat those conditions.

It's important NEVER to combine medications with other prescription, OTC, or natural drugs or supplements, without specifically clearing it with a veterinarian who knows your dog's health history!

Occasionally, surgery may be recommended, especially if the arthritic changes in your dog are limited to one area... such as the hips, elbows, spine. 

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