Is your dog stiff first thing in the morning? If he lags behind on walks or struggles to jump into the car, he may be suffering from arthritis.
But if the thought of arthritis makes your heart sink — it needn’t. A range of therapies are available to help your pet, whether the problem is a mild ache or a crumbling hip.
1. Weight Control
Carrying weight makes you work harder. The same is true for weight and your pet’s joints — carrying excess weight puts more strain on the joints.
Scientists looked at this in humans as well as in pets, and the message is that losing weight is a great treatment for arthritis.
2. Nutraceuticals and Dietary Supplements
Nutraceuticals are food supplements with a drug-like action.
For many years, people have commented on how much chondroitin and glucosamine (affiliate link) improved their pet’s mobility, and now the evidence is catching up as scientists learn about how nutraceuticals work.
The most commonly used nutraceuticals act in 1 of 2 ways:
- They naturally reduce joint inflammation.
- They provide the building blocks of repair.
Whether you believe they work or not, nutraceuticals are safe to give alongside conventional medicine, so there’s nothing to lose except the purchase price.
The ancient practice of using massage to relieve aches and pains goes back not centuries but millennia. Massage is relaxing and gives real results:
- Massage improves circulation.
- It removes toxins and inflammatory chemicals.
- It Increases the oxygen supply to damaged tissue.
- Not only does massage help detox inflamed joints, but it also keeps the muscles supporting the joint strong.
This video shows a woman performing massage on her dog, 10-year-old Takoda, who has arthritis:
The problem with pain is the dog limps and then uses different muscles to move. This means the muscles that normally support the joint waste away, which puts more stress on the joint.
Physiotherapy uses physical manipulation and non-drug therapies to reduce pain and increase mobility. In just the same way you have physical therapy after an operation, arthritic pets benefit from physiotherapy to keep them mobile.
- Passive manipulation of joints
- Heat treatment
Muscles support joints. In a vicious circle, arthritic pain leads to lack of exercise, which causes more muscle wastage. The non–weight bearing exercise of swimming rebuilds the muscles to support the joints and gets the animal moving again.
However, hydrotherapy is very different from a casual dip in your pool. The dog is supported in a harness and lowered into warm water, where currents encourage him to move his limbs.
Many excellent pain-relieving medications (from the NSAID family) have high safety margins. Pain relief is not only humane but also encourages mobility. Keeping your dog moving interrupts the downward spiral of stiffness leading to disuse and further soreness.
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is a small battery-powered device that produces a low electrical current to the skin. This “distracts” the nerves from sending out pain messages, or “closes the pain gate” as physiotherapists put it.
You can give this therapy at home, the benefits of pain relief last after the session is finished, and you can repeat the therapy as frequently as you wish.
8. Cold Laser Therapy
Cold laser therapy is a non-invasive, drug-free way of increasing the micro-circulation to inflamed joints. This then takes away toxins and deactivates the chemicals of inflammation, which helps healing and reduces pain.
Pets tolerate this therapy well, and many seem to enjoy it.
9. Stem Cell Therapy
In stem cell therapy, baby stem cells harvested from body fat are processed and injected into the diseased joints. These stem cells then change into new cartilage cells to repair and replenish the damaged surfaces.
Although scientists debate the effectiveness, 98% of pets reportedly show an improvement — many of these life-changing.
10. Joint Replacement Surgery
Just as people can have joint replacement surgery, so can dogs. Until recently, the wide range in sizes — from Chihuahua to Great Dane — held things back, but now more implant sizes are available. This is major surgery, but for many dogs the benefits are so life-enhancing that it’s worth considering.
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- “A review of osteoarthritis and obesity: Current understanding of the relationship and benefit of obesity treatment and prevention in the dog.” Marshall, Bockstahler, Hulse & Carmichael. Vet Comp Orthop Traumatol. 2009; 22(5):339–45. (link)
- “Pharmaceutical and nutraceutical management of canine osteoarthritis: Present and future perspectives.” Henrotin, Sanchez, Balligand. Vet J. 2005 Jul; 170(1):113–23. (link)
- Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook. Donald Plumb. Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed May 15, 2015.
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