I’m Worried About Losing My Older Dog Senior Dog Revolution-Show Notes In episode 17 of the podcast, I discuss the...Read More
By Dr. Monica Tarantino
Having a senior dog with arthritis can be challenging. Some owners have dogs with arthritis that can still run and play, while others have dogs that have stiff joints or difficulty getting up every day.
No matter where your dog is with its arthritis, the time to start paying attention is now! Do not wait. Arthritis is a disease of chronic pain, even if your dog can still sprint or run (remember, dogs are notorious for hiding pain)! Arthritis can not be cured, and it will progress.
Working with your vet to help develop a plan to slow progression, decrease pain and inflammation, and maintain quality of life is critical.
In this blog, I’ve rounded up 31 things that can help dogs with arthritis. Some have more evidence than others. But for the correct dog and with your vet’s approval, all these are reasonable things to consider to help an old dog with arthritis.
Affiliate links have been included and may result in a small commission for our small business at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting us.
Let’s start with some simple things you can do at home that have a BIG impact. These environmental modifications that we suggest are geared towards helping prevent injury and increase comfort in your senior dog with arthritis.
All across the US, dogs battle slipping on wooden floors in their home. Though it may not look like a big thing to some people, slips can cause strains and injuries to already hurting joints in older dogs with arthritis.
Finding unique ways to help cover up wooden floors is vital. We love washable rugs or 2×3 carpets with rubber backings that fit in the washing machine and clean easily. Throwing down yoga mats in your home can also help!
Jumping up and down onto the couch and bed can cause significant problems for older dogs with arthritis. The amount of force a joint absorbs from a jump down can cause unneeded strain and compression on an arthritic joint that is already diseased and prone to inflammation. Here are some of our favorite ottomans and steps in our home to help support their joints. The ‘sturdy’ steps (linked below) are more favorable for dogs than the soft pillow-like ones, which squish over time and become more challenging.
Some dogs just don’t like to use steps, and in those cases, ramps, whether inside, outside, or for use with a car, can be excellent. Our small dogs love having this ramp on the side of our bed to run up and down.
In addition to slipping when walking on wood floors, dogs can fall and strain their neck during feeding time. One solution to help reduce injury during feeding is to feed on a carpet or a yoga mat.
Nails that are too long cause old dogs with arthritis to walk with their paws at weird angles. They are uncomfortable and even increase slip and vulnerability to injuring themselves.
This varies with each dog, but on average, we trim our old dog Becca’s nails every two weeks with the goal of making it quick and getting a small amount each time. This helps them wear well over time. And though she doesn’t like it, we know she gets far better mobility when we keep up with it.
In addition to short nails, I would also insist on having my senior dog patients have their paw fur trimmed on the underneath side of their paws as well. I call the nails/fur trim combo the ‘Senior Dog Paw-dicure.’ This can help old dogs with arthritis prone to slipping. Here is one of my sweet patients getting her SDP here.
Many dogs have some anxiety around having their paws touched, so consider anxiety medication from your vet, gentle handling, having two people if possible, and calming chews that may help. We use the following for our senior dog, Becca (clippers, calming chews, nail trimmers, styptic), and it has made a big difference for her nail trims.
Comfy dog beds with adequate cushion can help prevent your dog from aggravating inflammation that is already occurring in their old arthritic joints. This University of Pennsylvania study on Big Barker Dog Beds showed reduced pain and joint stiffness. Though an investment, it is one of my favorite dog beds, but other affordable options can still do the trick.
If grippy socks are not an option for your dog, some dogs will do better with toe grips, like Dr. Buxby Toe Grips—these work to help them grip the floor better when they walk.
To help navigate slippery areas that your rugs can’t entirely cover, these grippy socks can make all the difference. Now, not every dog will wear them, but you’ll find a lot of them do well with them.
Another alternative is paw stickies, an adhesive that goes on your dog’s paw pads and can help provide more grip. Many dogs do great with this, including Chloe, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, who belongs to my friend Dr. Lisa Lippman. We like Pawfriction and this alternative here. These last anywhere from 2-5 days in our experience but will vary depending on the manufacturer.
When arthritis in an old dog causes more mobility issues, like struggling to get up and frequent falls, a well-made harness can make a big difference. It allows you to help your dog enjoy the things they still love to do. Here is the harness we used with Becca, which worked well, and another harness that several of my patients really like here.
This is the most vital thing on this list for your old dog with arthritis because although lists are great, we need trained clinicians who know how to apply them and where to focus on for your dog.
Your vet will help you develop a plan that fits your pet’s health needs, slows progression, and maximizes pain reduction and comfort for them.
The truth is that some old dogs with arthritis will need surgery to help. For example, with a torn ligament in the knee- delaying surgery, if recommended, may just cause your dog’s arthritis to worsen faster as they will often compensate for their weight on their ‘good knee,’ exacerbating disease there.
Most older dogs that are good candidates will do well with surgery, but you have to discuss the risks with your vet. Talking to your vet about their recommendations and understanding the risks of waiting or not doing surgery exists, too.
Stem cell therapy is a regenerative therapy that does seem to have some benefits for some dogs with arthritis. Not every vet does it, and I discuss it in more detail on my podcast here with Dr. Julie Reck the pros and cons. In the patients that we offered this to, we’d see some great results and some mild results—our complete discussion in this two-part episode here and here.
Just like helping reduce slip at home, I always recommend mats to help reduce slip at the vet. My personal favorite is yoga mats, and though not every clinic uses them- I tell pet parents of senior dogs to bring their own! Most nurses are happy to set them up for use for your dog in the exam room, and this can help reduce slip, stress, and discomfort for your dog.
We talk a lot about the different options for joint diets in our Senior Dog Nutrition Mini-Course for pet parents. (We even provide a balanced homemade diet recipe!) Many prescription joint diets will have research behind them that shows they help dogs with arthritis.
These diets are often loaded with omega 3’s meaning you won’t need to supplement them in addition to antioxidants and glucosamine. Still, the exact formula will depend on the specific diet and brand—many great options here, including non-prescription but healthy fresh food options to support joint health in dogs.
I know it’s boring and not as fun as the supplements we will be mentioning; however, it is likely the most important thing on the list to help an older dog with arthritis. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that nearly 60% of dogs are overweight. Talk to your vet about your pet’s ideal weight and how to get there.
Data suggests that movement is critical for humans with arthritis and that low-impact exercise is the type of exercise they benefit the most from. The same goes for dogs. So, instead of large romps and activities that involve jumps, try walks, underwater treadmills, and swimming.
The other important consideration with exercise is keeping it consistent and appropriate for their current health status. Waiting until the weekend to get pets out is not ideal. Instead, plan- short walks throughout the week and hire a dog walker if needed.
I once heard a canine rehabber talk about how every dog with arthritis needs physical therapy, and I agree. Benefits of physical therapy include reducing pain, improving range of motion, and so much more.
To find a canine physical therapist near you, check out the Canine Rehabilitation Institute. For those looking to try physical therapy at home, the Veterinary Teaching Academy, run by canine rehabber Dr. John, has fantastic online courses for pet parents, teaching routines and exercise options you can do at home with your old dog with arthritis.
Strength building is undoubtedly essential for older dogs with arthritis. As your dog ages, they are prone to losing muscle mass through sarcopenia.
Ways to help with that include exercise (walking, physical therapy). One supplement that may help maintain muscle is Myos, which has an active ingredient called Fortetropin, made from concentrated egg yolk. You simply sprinkle it onto your dog’s food. Talk to your vet to see if it’s right for your dog.
Omega 3’s also have some data behind them suggesting they can help decrease inflammation in the body. We often use them to support joints, skin, and even kidneys. Sourcing matters, so using a brand your vet recommends is essential. I provide a few I like here for my patients. Also, if your dog is on a joint diet already- they may not need this supplementation.
Glucosamine has been around for a long time and is a supplement with some evidence that it helps dog joints and some that it may not do much. Brand and testing DO matter, as do the other ingredients that the company includes along with the glucosamine.
Here’s a product I like from VetriScience called Glycoflex Plus that has studies behind it in addition to green mussel extract, MSM, antioxidants, and more. (Another one I like here that is similar for picky senior dogs as you can crumble it onto their food.)
CBD stands for cannabidiol and is one of the main compounds that is nonpsychoactive and produced from the cannabis plant. It is reported to have calming and anti-inflammatory effects that may help arthritic joints.
Do not pick a random product from a grocery or holistic store to give your dogs. Concentration and quality control vary greatly, so instead, talk to your vet and consider a product that has testing and quality control behind it.
Besides weight control, one of the few medications that has consistent data for helping dogs with arthritis is NSAIDS. Doggy-specific NSAIDS include medications like Galliprant (grapiprant), Rimadyl (carprofen), Deramaxx, and Meloxicam. Always talk to your vet before giving any medications to your dog.
Like all medications, NSAIDs come with risks and require periodic bloodwork. They are not for every dog, but my 18-year-old labrador mix, Becca, was on NSAIDs every day for the last five years of her life, which helped her mobility and quality of life tremendously during that time.
Librela is a brand new once-a-month injection that helps target arthritis in dogs. It works by blocking nerve growth factor that contributes to pain dogs with arthritis experience. Though it is brand new to the US as of late 2023, it has been available in Europe with good results for years.
Though it is too soon to say- so far in the US, we are seeing good results with patients. I started my senior dogs, Twig and Orwell, on it, and they seem to feel more spry than they did without it. Like any medication, it comes with risks, so discuss with your vet if it’s right for your dog.
Gabapentin is a pain medication that historically has been used for neurologic-based pain; however, it is also used for arthritic pain. One of the reasons vets like this medication is that it is considered relatively safe for many dogs with kidney or liver issues. Dosing varies enormously, and it can cause sleepiness. However, this is undoubtedly a reasonable medication to try with arthritic dogs and one my old girl Becca used for quite a while.
Adequan is an injection that helps protect cartilage within your dog’s joints and may improve pain. When you first start your dog on it, they will need several injections a week, and then that is tapered down slowly to once a month. Most dogs tolerate it well, although in very rare cases, it can cause a clotting issue.
Before Librela, this used to be the only injection used to help manage arthritis that we had. In my experience, for some dogs, this medication would make a huge difference, but for others, the difference was minimal.
Though it doesn’t have consistent data on whether it is helpful in arthritis, laser therapy is something that I’ve seen help with short-term comfort in older arthritic dogs. Here’s a pic of my soul dog Frodo getting it, and he always seemed a bit more spry after his treatments.
Acupuncture therapy may help increase comfort in old dogs with arthritis, though there is no consistent data on this. Acupuncture should only be done with other therapies to help with arthritis.
Some dogs respond well, while others have little response. We did acupuncture for Becca and found it to be mildly helpful. In general, it is low risk and worth trying for an older arthritic dog to gauge if you think it is helping or not.
Massage is undoubtedly a modality that can be used in addition to other modalities to help reduce pain and inflammation temporarily. Many senior dogs respond very well to it and seem to relax with massage.
People often complain of the cold exacerbating their arthritic joints, and though we can’t ask our dogs, heat therapy does seem to improve circulation and comfort for some. For Becca, we used heated dog braces at home. Though this is not a stand-alone way to manage arthritic pain, it may provide minor relief for an older dog with arthritis.
We hope you found this list helpful for your senior dog with arthritis. As always, discuss all medical decisions for your pets with your vet. Frequently, employing a combination of the above choices can help improve the quality of life of an old arthritic dog.
Please note this blog is not medical advice and is for informational purposes only.
Affiliate links have been included and may result in a small commission for our small business. Thank you for supporting us.
Welcome! We are so glad you are here! At SDR, we are firm believers that senior pets are the most inspiring animals in the world. And our mission is to help promote the needs of senior dogs and help pet parents create a life of health and happiness for their oldest canine friend.