At least one in four dogs is likely to suffer from arthritis pain at some point in life. So, it’s no surprise that I regularly advised clients about joint support options for their aging furbabies. With a combination of supplements, medication, and lifestyle changes, we were often able to provide relief for furry family members so they could enjoy a good quality of life in their senior years. Let’s review common joint issues in dogs, and the best strategies to help your dog with joint support.
Common joint issues in dogs
While dogs can suffer from joint disorders due to birth defects, injuries, or infections, the most common cause of joint disease in dogs is osteoarthritis. Let’s look at each type of joint issue dogs can experience.
1. Hip dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is caused by a congenital condition in which the hip socket is too shallow, creating a loose joint. As a result, the ball of the femur moves around and damages the cartilage. Over time, the cartilage breaks down, causing degeneration known as osteoarthritis. Signs of hip dysplasia include
- Varying degrees of lameness, some have a bunny-hop gait
- Lameness may be more severe after exercise
- Stiff joint with reduced range of motion
- The affected hip is painful when palpated or manipulated
2. Elbow dysplasia
Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia occurs in dogs with abnormal joint development. It most commonly affects young, large-breed dogs during rapid growth periods. Dogs tend to develop progressive lameness between four and eight months, but some cases aren’t diagnosed until the pup is over a year old.
Osteoarthritis is the most common joint issue in canines. It affects at least one in five dogs over one year old and one in every two dogs over 10 years old. The degenerative disease is a result of wear and tear to your pup’s cartilage and bone. Signs of osteoarthritis include
- Joint swelling
- Muscle wasting
- Loss of joint movement
4. Legg-Calvé Perthes Disease
Young small and miniature-breed dogs can suffer from Legg-Calvé Perthes Disease. This condition is characterized by a lack of blood supply to the femoral head. As a result, the top of the femur collapses causing pain and lameness. Frequently, both legs are involved. Signs of the disease include
- Hindlimb lameness
- Pain with movement of the hip joint
- Wasting of the thigh muscles
5. Septic or infectious arthritis
Inflammation of the joint can occur as a result of bacterial infections or tick-borne diseases. The invading pathogens cause inflammation in the joint. Signs include
- Joint swelling
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Joint stiffness
8 Best Ways to provide joint support to your dog
When it comes to arthritis in dogs, early diagnosis and a comprehensive approach to care are key to improving your pup’s quality of life. There are several things you can do at home to provide your furbaby some relief and joint support.
In addition to medications and possible surgical solutions which we will discuss below, there are various ways to manage joint disease in your dog to help reduce the pain and progression of arthritis.
1. Dietary management
Dietary management for your pooch includes two goals. The first goal is weight management. About 56% of canines in the United States suffer from obesity, which is a root cause of joint disease. Extra pounds put a strain on the joints and can increase arthritic pain. The second goal when selecting a diet is to choose food that provides nutrients and supplements that support joint health. We’ll discuss supplements in detail in an upcoming section.
2. Low-impact exercise
Like humans, dogs with arthritis benefit from age and breed-appropriate exercise. When you keep your dog moving, the activity helps to strengthen bones and muscles, improve flexibility, and promote healthy joint movement. Some ways to exercise dogs with arthritis include leash walking and swimming. However, avoid high-impact activities such as jumping, chasing balls, or running. These exercises put repetitive concussive forces on the joints that can further debilitate arthritic pups.
3. Physical therapy
With appropriate physical therapy, you may be able to ease your pup’s joint pain and improve his quality of life. Options that you can try for your dog include:
- Massage therapy – Regular sessions with a trained professional canine massage therapist may relieve pain and help to improve flexibility.
- Laser therapy – Cold laser therapy is gaining popularity in the United States as a therapeutic modality for dogs. The non-invasive treatment uses light to create cellular responses in the body that can help to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
- Hydrotherapy – With canine hydrotherapy, certified therapists help your dog perform specific exercises while in water. The liquid environment provides buoyancy and reduces weight on the joints. As a result, dogs move with less pain and achieve a full range of motion. One common form of hydrotherapy is an underwater treadmill.
4. Home modifications
When dogs experience joint pain, everyday activities can be difficult and painful. By making some adjustments at home, you can help your pooch remain as comfortable and pain-free as possible.
- Use pet stairs or ramps to reduce strain on the joints when your dog needs to get in or out of the car or onto furniture.
- Invest in orthopedic beds. Thick memory foam beds with non-slip backing provide joint support and can help to ease joint pain. Place a bed in every room that your dog frequents to provide comfort.
- Provide non-slip flooring for your dog. Aging pups with joint issues may fear walking on hard surfaces such as tile or wood flooring. Equip your home with non-slip rugs, carpeting, or mats to assist your pup’s mobility.
- Make food and water dishes accessible. Place your dog’s food and water station near a favorite bed or where he can easily reach the bowls.
- If your dog has moderate to severe arthritis, invest in a dog lift harness. You can use the sling to help your furbaby rise from a prone position or to provide support on slippery surfaces.
- Keep your dog’s nails trimmed. Long nails can interfere with your pooch’s traction, and it may alter his gait. Changes in the biomechanics may contribute to arthritis pain.
There are a variety of supplements that may help to reduce inflammation or support joint cartilage health and repair. We’ll look at popular supplements in the section below.
Some anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers can help your dog deal with joint pain. Consult with your veterinarian about the best care options for your furbaby.
6. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs)
NSAIDs are instrumental in managing joint pain in many dogs. However, you need to consult with your veterinarian about medications that are safe for dogs. Human NSAIDs like naproxen sodium are not safe to give to your pup. Your vet will be able to prescribe drugs such as carprofen, meloxicam, or galliprant.
7. Joint injections
SeveraAlso l substances can be injected into the joint to treat osteoarthritis in dogs.
- Adequan is an FDA-approved treatment for arthritis in dogs. The substance contains polysulfated glycosaminoglycan or PSGAG which plays a role in cartilage growth and health. Your veterinarian must inject adequan intramuscularly or under the skin.
- Corticosteroid injections in the joint can help reduce inflammation and pain for your dog when other non-invasive approaches aren’t working. This should be a last-ditch method because repeated injections can cause cartilage damage.
- Hyaluronic acid(HA) occurs naturally and provides lubrication in joints. When joints become arthritic, there’s less HA and therefore less lubrication. By injecting synthetic HA into your dog’s joints, your veterinarian may be able to reduce arthritis symptoms. However, the relief and effectiveness may be short-lived.
Depending on your dog’s condition, there are various surgical options that your veterinarian may recommend. Surgery is usually the final option in treatment. It’s expensive and can cause unwanted side effects.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
- Joint replacement – Sometimes veterinarians recommend a total hip replacement for dogs with hip dysplasia.
- Femoral head removal – Small breed dogs with hip dysplasia may only require surgical removal of the femoral head and neck.
- Arthroscopic surgery – Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive way to support joint stability, and it allows your vet to examine your dog’s cartilage.
Joint supplements for dogs: when can they help?
Several joint supplements may be able to help your dog. Before you grab the first product you see, you should know when they can help and what you should look for.
When not to give joint supplements
Sometimes, your dog doesn’t need added supplements for joint support. If you’re using dog food that includes a balanced blend of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, giving supplements that also contain vitamins and minerals can be dangerous. Extra levels of certain vitamins or minerals can be toxic for your furbaby
There’s also a risk that the supplements could interfere with any medications that your dog is on. Talk with your veterinarian about any supplements before you give them to make sure they are compatible with other drugs.
WATCH: 3 Important Tips To Care For an Old Dog [VET VIDEO]
Finally, never give human joint supplements to your dog. They may contain toxic ingredients like xylitol, or the doses could be toxic for your dog. Only supplement your dog with veterinarian-approved products.
What to look for in joint supplements
While you should consult with your veterinarian about giving your dog joint supplements and the best products for his needs, it helps to know what to look for when selecting specific brands of supplements.
- NASC quality seal – Supplements for dogs aren’t regulated the same way as human products. The National Animal Supplement Council quality seal indicates the manufacturer follows specific steps to demonstrate product reliability.
- Third-party testing – Third-party testing tells you that an independent lab that has nothing to do with the marketing or sale of the product tested the supplement.
- Safety – Evaluate the ingredients to ensure that it doesn’t contain ingredients such as soy, artificial flavors, or preservatives.
- Taste and smell – Dogs are like children. They’re more likely to eat something that tastes and smells good to them. If possible, select supplements with a natural flavoring that appeals to canines.
- Ease of administration – Whenever possible, choose supplements that can be added to the food, used as treats, or come as soft chews. These will be much easier to give to your dog regularly.
Common joint supplements for dogs
- Glucosamine hydrochloride is a naturally occurring amino-acid sugar that’s found in joints. As dogs age, their bodies produce less of the substance, so supplementation can help to provide key building blocks for cartilage repair.
- Chondroitin sulfate is also present in cartilage and works with glucosamine to help lubricate the joint and battle inflammatory enzymes that can damage cartilage.
- Omega-3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) have anti-inflammatory properties that can ease arthritis pain and inflammation. They counteract molecules known as cytokines that trigger the inflammatory response. While therapeutic levels of omega fatty acids are higher than traditional supplements, don’t overdo it. Excessive doses (>310 mg/kg) can cause digestive upset, delayed clotting, and other serious issues.
An excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid supplements is Zesty Paws Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil. This product is NANC certified and can be added directly to your dog’s food.
- Methylsulfonylmetane (MSM) is a building block for cell membranes, so it can help heal joints and rejuvenate damaged cells. As a natural antioxidant, MSM helps reduce pain and inflammation.
- One supplement that includes glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and other ingredients is Dasequen with MSM from Nutramax. This product comes in a chewable form and different doses based on breed size.
About natural supplements
Some natural supplements are popular for treating joint pain in humans, but are they effective and safe for dogs? While most of the research on these materials is directed at humans, a few studies involving canines suggest they may help manage arthritis pain in dogs. However, the evidence is limited, and some of the substances may interfere with certain drugs. Talk to a veterinarian before trying these natural supplements.
- Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) – ASUs are avocado and soybean oil extracts that block the inflammatory chemicals that damage cartilage. Combining ASU with chondroitin and glucosamine may provide enhanced results.
- Turmeric – Turmeric is an Indian spice that contains a compound called curcumin. This substance helps manage the inflammatory response in dogs. One thing to note is that bioperine(found in black pepper) is needed for the body to absorb curcumin.
- Boswellia serrata – The resin extract of the Boswellia serrata tree may help manage arthritis pain. It contains chemicals known as terpenes which inhibit inflammatory chemicals. There is limited clinical research on the effectiveness of Boswellia use in dogs.
Do alternative therapies work?
There are a variety of alternative therapies that holistic veterinarians may employ to treat arthritis in dogs. There is limited research available to demonstrate the efficacy of these approaches in dogs, but there is anecdotal evidence that they may help reduce arthritis pain. They may be useful as supportive measures but should never replace needed medical or surgical treatments. You should only pursue alternative therapies after consulting with your veterinarian.
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is currently gaining popularity in the United States as an alternative therapy for arthritis in humans and dogs. Some evidence suggests that canine acupuncture therapy may be able to help manage chronic pain from arthritis.
- Herbal therapies – We have discussed the use of turmeric and Boswellia as alternative treatments for the management of joint pain. Some studies show promise for using herbal supplements to reduce the need for NSAIDs. Usually, an integrative approach that uses several herbs yields better results than a single herb supplement.
- There have been conflicting reports about the efficacy of turmeric supplementation, but the variable results may be linked to absorption problems.
- A 2004 study evaluating Boswellia supplementation to treat osteoarthritis in dogs showed promising results, but some subjects experienced diarrhea and other side effects.
- Photobiomodulation(PBMT) – PBMT is also known as laser therapy. The use of PBMT can help to decrease inflammation and reduce the pain of arthritis. In a 2018 study, applying laser therapy over six weeks improved pain scores and reduced the required dose of NSAIDs.
- Physical therapy – Various modalities in physical therapy may help reduce pain and inflammation caused by joint disease.
- Massage increases circulation and stimulates endorphin release which helps to modulate pain. It can also improve flexibility and range of motion.
- Moist heat – Placing warm hot packs over affected joints can help ease chronic inflammation and pain by stimulating vasodilation and circulation in the affected area.
Medications that can help
Most medications you can use to help your dog find relief from joint pain are prescription drugs. Do not use over-the-counter NSAIDs without consulting with your veterinarian.
- Buffered aspirin – Buffered aspirin can be used with glucosamine and chondroitin to treat joint pain in dogs. If you administer this OTC product, there is a risk of your dog developing ulcers or intestinal upset.
- Prescription NSAIDs – Your veterinarian may prescribe medications for osteoarthritis pain management. It’s important to follow dosing directions closely as most of these substances can produce side effects. Your veterinarian will also routinely monitor your pooch to make sure he’s tolerating the medicine. Some of the most common drugs are:
For most dogs, these medications are effective in controlling pain and inflammation. Treating mild cases of chronic joint pain will probably cost around $25-30 per month.
- Corticosteroids – If your dog can’t tolerate NSAIDs, your veterinarian may use corticosteroids to moderate pain and inflammation. Because these drugs can have long-term side effects, they’re usually used to treat flare-ups in older dogs that don’t respond to other treatments. Corticosteroids generally cost $40 or less per month.
- Other pain meds may also be used when NSAIDs are not an option. Some examples include tramadol and gabapentin.
Signs your dog’s joints need veterinary help
None of us want our furbabies to suffer, but dogs don’t always show obvious signs of joining pain like limping or crying when bearing weight on the affected limb. However, there are signs you can watch for as your furry friend ages. These symptoms help you to know when your dog needs to see the veterinarian for joint evaluation and support.
- Prolonged limping or lameness for more than a few days
- Difficulty rising and lying down
- Walking with a stiff gait
- Reluctance to climb or descend stairs
- Reluctance to get on and off furniture
- Irritability or unexpected aggression
- Sleeping more than usual
- Slower getting started in the morning
- Loss of stamina or lagging on walks
- Reluctance to let you touch affected limbs or joints
- Yelping or crying when the joint is touched or palpated
- Excessive licking of a joint
- Swollen joints
Can joint issues in dogs be prevented?
Once joint disease and arthritis start, most of the damage can’t be reversed. Even though you may be able to slow the progression of deterioration, your best approach is to take preventative measures.
- Start joint supplements early in life
- Keep your dog moving
- Feed a nutritious, age-appropriate diet that supports healthy bones and joints
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Delay spaying and neutering – Traditionally, the recommended age for spaying and neutering dogs is around 6 months. However, recent studies suggest that delaying these surgeries until dogs reach 1-2 years of age may significantly reduce the likelihood of developing joint problems, particularly in certain medium to large-breed dogs.
- Check with your breeder about OFA certification for hips and other measures they take to prevent breeding puppies that have a higher risk of developing joint problems.
Certain breeds are more likely to develop some forms of arthritis such as hip dysplasia. When you have furbabies from at-risk breeds, it’s all the more important to take preventative measures. At-risk dogs include:
- American Staffordshire Terriers
- Basset Hounds
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Catahoula Hounds
- Chow Chows
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
- French Bulldogs
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Neapolitan Mastiffs
- Norwegian Elkhounds
- Old English Sheepdogs
- Pit Bulls
- Saint Bernards
- Shih Tzus
What are the top causes of chronic joint pain in dogs?
There are several causes of chronic joint pain in dogs. Understanding the contributing factors can help you and your veterinarian find the best course of treatment and at-home support for your pooch.
Osteoarthritis and other conditions that tend to develop as dogs age fall in this category. Over time, the wear and tear on joint cartilage can trigger degenerative changes and inflammation.
Canine arthritis is the most common cause of joint disease that veterinarians treat in dogs.
Some dogs have a genetic or congenital predisposition for developing chronic joint pain. Examples of these causes include hip and elbow dysplasia.
Dogs can develop joint pain from injuries or infections. Bone fractures near the joint or a ligament injury can cause joint pain for your pooch. Sometimes, the pain will resolve when the injury heals, but not always. Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections can also cause chronic joint pain.
Dogs can suffer autoimmune diseases where the body’s immune system starts to attack healthy tissue. Some of these conditions, including immune-mediated polyarthritis, can cause prolonged joint pain.