*Disclaimer: This article is not meant to serve as a substitute for veterinary advice. Dr.Hempdog believes firmly in the contents of this article because of the thorough research that backs it up and our own experiences with the thousands of dogs that we have helped through the years (including our own). You should always defer to your veterinarian when adding anything to your dog's unique wellness routine.
We are incredibly proud to be able to share this information with our community, and we hope you'll find it to be a useful resource as you move forward with your dog’s healing. There's nothing more important to us than helping dogs age gracefully, which is why our efforts have been shaped by one simple motto since we started in 2015: We Do This for Them.
Did you know that canine arthritis affects at least 80% of all dogs at some point in their life? If your dog is over eight years young, there’s a good chance that they’re dealing with early stages of arthritis already. Dogs have evolved to hide their pain extremely well, so it’s often difficult to recognize their discomfort if you aren't paying close attention. While some breeds are more susceptible to arthritis than others, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for symptoms of arthritis no matter the breed, just in case. If you detect arthritis early enough, you can add extra years of comfort to your dog’s life.
We’ll walk you through the most common signs of arthritis, followed by some of our best information on arthritis treatment, which we’ve collected from the latest veterinary findings and the incredible database of treatment information and experience we've built up over time.
What is Canine Arthritis?
Arthritis is a category of degenerative joint disease that many dogs suffer from, which frequently causes inflammation, pain, and loss of mobility. Arthritis is particularly common in dogs’ senior years, but can, unfortunately, manifest at any age (especially if they’ve suffered an injury or surgery earlier in life).
Though arthritis comes in many forms, osteoarthritis (i.e. joint cartilage deterioration) is the most common type that veterinarians diagnose.
When arthritis affects the spine, dogs commonly develop pinched nerves in the lower back, which can disrupt communication to their hind legs, causing further pain, incontinence, numbness, and/or an inability to walk comfortably.
Dogs can develop arthritis at any time in their life, but are more likely to experience it after the age of seven. Certain breeds also have higher risks of developing arthritis (i.e. most large breeds, such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Mastiffs, Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Labradors, Great Danes, and others).
Other risk factors for arthritis include joint injuries, stressful physical activity, poor nutrition, and genetics, regardless of age or breed. Even simple factors like overgrown nails can contribute to the development of arthritis—untrimmed nails can splay the toes apart and force a dog to adopt an unhealthy posture, putting extra strain on their joints.
Arthritis is a progressive disease, meaning that it starts out with very subtle symptoms and gets worse with time, making it hard to detect early on. Although arthritis can’t be cured, once diagnosed, you can slow down its progression and treat its symptoms, which can help your dog live out their senior years much more comfortably. We know many dogs who’ve been able to thrive well into their golden years once they’ve had their arthritis properly addressed with some of the treatment options discussed below.
Most Common Signs of Arthritis in Dogs
As descendants of ancient wolves, dogs retain the instinct to hide their pain and discomfort. In times long past, this instinct was necessary to survive and avoid being left behind by the pack; however, that instinct makes it difficult to know whether or not your dog is suffering. That said, there are still subtle symptoms that you can detect if you pay close attention.
If you notice any symptoms of arthritis, it’s worth it to get your dog examined by a vet, since the earlier you catch things, the easier their condition will be to treat.
Even if your dog isn’t displaying any symptoms yet, veterinarians typically recommend you start supplementing for arthritis at around seven years young, depending on the breed—check to see what your vet recommends.
Other Potential Signs of Arthritis
The symptoms listed below are often signs of arthritis, but in rare cases, they could be indicators of other conditions as well. Be sure to consult a vet for a formal diagnosis.
- Accidents in the house and/or an unusual posture while urinating or defecating; usually, this only happens after arthritis has been a problem for a while.
- Reduced activity, such as a reluctance to run, play, and use the stairs. This may lead to weight gain and/or loss of muscle mass as well.
- Behavioral changes, such as irritability, depression, timidness, and shying away from petting and physical contact.
- Licking, chewing, and/or biting various parts of the body (especially paws and joints), which can lead to hair loss and inflammation.
Reduced activity in dogs can be the result of nearly any form of mental or physical discomfort. If your dog isn't playing or greeting you like they used to, you may want to talk to your vet.
What To Do If You Think Your Dog Has Arthritis
If you notice any of the above symptoms, talk to your veterinarian so that they can diagnose whether or not your dog has arthritis. Once you know what your dog is dealing with, your vet should work with you to create a custom treatment plan tailored to their unique needs.
Every dog is unique, so you may need to employ a variety of treatments to help them overcome arthritis. In particular, integrating a holistic vet into their treatment plan is something we’ve seen great success with, as they can offer alternative treatments which many find to be highly effective. Both traditional and holistic veterinarians can be extremely useful depending on the situation, so it’s a good idea to include both sides of the picture when seeking advice for your dog’s wellness.
Below, you’ll find a list of common treatment options, accompanied by the best information we can share on what has and hasn't worked for us. For your convenience, we’ve split these treatments into three categories:
Common Traditional Treatment Options and Our Experiences
- NSAIDs: NSAIDs (i.e. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are commonly used for inflammation and pain. However, long-term use of NSAIDs is well known to be toxic and can cause damage to your dog’s kidneys, liver, and potentially more.
- Our experience: We try to stay away from these since there are so many other options out there for reducing inflammation that won’t damage your dog’s health, as we discuss further below. However, we do keep some stronger NSAIDs on hand for emergencies.
- Other Painkillers: Painkillers come in many other forms, including steroids, narcotics, and neuro suppressants (such as prednisolone, tramadol, and gabapentin). These painkillers can provide varying amounts of relief, especially if your dog has a specific condition that demands particular medications.
- Our experience: The veterinary community often turns to pharmaceuticals before exploring natural, effective treatment options. All of the pharmaceuticals listed above can have physical and/or mental side effects.
- Injections: You'll typically come across two types of injections, depending on whether pharmaceuticals (like steroids) or supplementary compounds (like glucosamine) are being injected. While both categories can reduce inflammation and protect joint cartilage, different injections can have different benefits and implications, depending on your dog's situation. Steroid and pharmaceutical injections often induce side effects with prolonged use, while supplementary injections (such as hyaluronic acid and glucosamine) are known to be better-tolerated by dogs
- Our experience: We've found that adequan (an FDA-approved glucosamine injection) and hyaluronic acid are excellent tools for treating severe arthritis in dogs. In particular, we’ve seen Adequan show remarkably consistent results in our dogs; to learn more, we recommend consulting our list of Additional Resources at the bottom of this article.
- Surgery: Depending on the particulars of your dog's condition, surgical treatments can be helpful at times. Surgery usually involves removing damaged joint tissue, repairing bones, or replacing joints and hips entirely. Choosing surgery isn’t a decision to make lightly, as it will require intense post-op care and has a risk of complications.
- Our experience: There are a few fringe situations in which surgery can be helpful, but it often isn’t an option for older dogs who can’t handle invasive procedures. Unless your dog has a specific injury that your vet strongly advises surgery for, this might not be the best treatment. Thoroughly discuss things with your vet and get multiple opinions if possible.
Common Holistic Care Options and Our Experiences
Many traditional and holistic vets alike recommend these care options, as they’re widely accepted to be invaluable for the health of senior dogs. In our experiences, we’ve seen all of these be helpful (some more than others):
- Weight loss and dietary adjustments: Being overweight places more strain on dogs’ joints, intensifying their arthritis and loss of mobility. An active lifestyle and healthy weight can relieve that burden, which is essential to treat any form of arthritis, no matter how severe. Your veterinarian can tell you more about what your dog’s weight should be.
- Our experience: We can confidently recommend this for just about every dog out there, regardless of if they have arthritis or not. Keeping your dog at a proper weight (which is often lower than you think!) is key to optimizing your dog's longevity and mobility. Consider switching your dog to a low-carb diet with plenty of greens over time; we find Farmer's Dog to be an excellent service for this (among many others), as they can deliver healthy dog food to your doorstep hassle-free. For a nutritious treat substitute, try raw carrots which we find to be an incredibly loved treat (if your dog has difficulty navigating larger items, you may wish to cut the carrots into small chunks to prevent choking, but we don’t find this necessary with our dogs).
- Physical therapy & rehabilitation: Building muscle around arthritic joints can reduce pain, restore mobility, and promote general joint health. There are many great physical therapists and clinics that can not only assist your dog in need, but can also show you exercise routines that you can do at home. Plus, dogs usually love the attention, since you’re showing them that you understand the problem they’re dealing with.
- Our experience: We find that physical therapy can be a crucial part of an overall treatment plan. In particular, we feel that swimming is one of the best types of physical therapy since it’s fun, easy, and highly effective.
- Swimming/hydrotherapy: Whether it’s at your pool, your dog’s favorite local lake, or a hydrotherapy rehab center, swimming is one of the most beneficial (and cost-effective) activities you can provide for your dog. Hydrotherapy is a form of physical therapy that uses swimming, walks on underwater treadmills, and other water-based activities to restore joint health and muscle mass. By floating in water, dogs can exercise comfortably even if their mobility is heavily compromised by pain, obesity, or muscle degeneration. Furthermore, swimming loosens up muscles in the lower back, which is a common problem area for for senior dogs with arthritis.
- Our experience: Our favorite form of physical therapy for dogs is bringing them to lakes and other natural bodies of water to swim—most of our dogs love to fetch balls in the water, which is a great way to help them exercise. If you live somewhere where your dog can swim outside, then you should be doing so as much as possible.
- Note: Beaches (or any other body of water with natural currents and any waves/turbulence) are not the easiest places for arthritic dogs to swim. If your dog struggles to swim easily, consider equipping them with a life preserver to help them safely and comfortably stay afloat, regardless of where you're swimming. Make sure the preserver keeps your dog's head up so they don't accidentally swallow extra water.
- Changes to the home environment: Floors and stairs are key obstacles that you should be aware of. Many dogs with arthritis commonly lose some feeling in their hind paws; carpeting does a great job of helping them gain traction. Going up and down the stairs can place extra strain on your dog’s joints, so if you are still comfortable letting them use stairs, it’s best to have your stairs carpeted, or at the very least, to put a carpet at the bottom. We have found that not using carpeting makes them more prone to slipping and falling, which is a horrible situation to find yourself in. Soft beds and other household alterations can further help your dog stay comfortable and well-rested at home.
- Our experience: When your dog does have to leave the house, mobility-enhancing products such as support harnesses can often help them to get around comfortably; we discuss these in more detail in our list of additional resources at the bottom of this article.
- If your dog is knuckling their rear paws: Anti-knuckling shoes can effectively train the dog to reverse this in many cases, and usually don’t have to be worn for too long to give the dog’s body time to recover and build good walking habits again. That, coupled with managing the underlying cause of your dog’s knuckling (i.e. inflammation / pain / paw discomfort / pinched spinal cord nerves), is the best way to help your dog overcome knuckling.
- Our experience: We have found this to be a very easy behavior to reverse in most dogs. Make sure that you carefully adjust your anti-knuckling shoes to avoid excess rubbing and discomfort. After using them for a few weeks, try to give your dog the opportunity to walk without them, and see how far they've come.
Other Great Holistic Treatment Options and Our Experiences
In our experience, these alternative holistic treatments can be extremely effective and offer safe, natural, and generally inexpensive approaches to managing arthritis. While these types of treatments are becoming increasingly popular due to their consistent effectiveness, we recommend discussing any change to your dog's wellness plans with your vet.
- CBD/Cannabinoids: (*This entry could arguably be included in any of the above sections as well, as research is continually proving how effective the proper cannabinoid products can be). CBD and other cannabinoids are consistently shown to help with comfort, mobility, and many other conditions according to current findings and our customers’ testimonies; we discuss this in greater detail below as well as in our article explaining the benefits of CBD for dogs.
- Our experience: Our company likely has more data on cannabinoid usage in dogs than anyone else in the world. Out of all of the treatment options listed in this article, cannabinoids have had the most consistent, profound impact on the lives of senior dogs. If you have any questions about using CBD for dogs, you can get in touch with us using the contact information at the end of this article.
- Supplements (AKA nutraceuticals): There are many natural dietary supplements that can support the health of arthritic dogs as they age. Every holistic and western veterinary professional we know of recommends putting your senior dog on joint supplements (at the very least), including, but not limited to, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, and omega fatty acids (specifically from salmon oil), all of which we successfully use for our senior dogs. Connect with your veterinarian to get more detailed advice on which supplements would be best for your dog.
- Our experience: We’ve included a full breakdown of the supplements that we like to use at the bottom of this article, but we find turmeric to be especially helpful for inflammation, and as a bonus, studies and reports from veterinarians show that it can help to fight cancer and several other conditions. We’ve had great success with using turmeric mixed with black pepper and a bit of natural oil (such as wild salmon oil or coconut oil), as several studies show that all three compounds are potently anti-inflammatory.
- Chiropractic adjustments: Canine arthritis can commonly lead to pinched nerves in the lower back, which can be extremely troublesome for dogs by disrupting communication to their rear-end and of course being very uncomfortable. However, loosening that region up through chiropractic adjustment is often immensely beneficial in alleviating this. Of course, these treatments also have the potential to reduce general pain and increase their range of motion.
- Our experience: With most of our dogs, this has been an extremely beneficial treatment for rear-end mobility. Once dogs have experienced the relief they are usually thrilled the next time they are back with the Chiropractor.
- Massage therapy: While similar to chiropractic on the surface, massage therapists use a gentler, simple approach to promote blood flow, soothe pain, and relax muscles. Just like humans, every dog enjoys a good massage, which makes for a great opportunity to bond and relax with your furry friend.
- Our experience: You can also gently massage your dog at home, as long as you’re careful not to aggravate their joint pain. You can ask your vet or an animal chiropractor to teach you how to safely perform a massage, but oftentimes, you can let common sense guide you: start gently, and your dog will tell you what feels good.
- Acupuncture: This practice can soothe arthritic pain and inflammation in dogs, improving mobility and letting your practitioner get to know your dog’s condition. Studies show that acupuncture promotes the body’s natural production of painkilling hormones and inhibits inflammatory enzymes, which we know to be true since we’ve seen remarkable results with our dogs receiving acupuncture from experienced practitioners. Acupuncture is usually most effective in a peaceful, quiet environment.
- Our experience: Acupuncture is nearly painless and can be a relaxing experience for many dogs. We recommend tapping into your network to find an exceptional acupuncturist; the best acupuncturists don’t just stick needles into your dog, but will also monitor the needles’ reactions to get a read on their health and adjust accordingly.
- Cold laser therapy: Many people report that their dogs have had good experiences with laser therapy, although it’s relatively unstudied. In theory, laser therapy works by inhibiting inflammatory enzymes, promoting blood flow, and enhancing the body’s production of natural, pain-relieving hormones, much like acupuncture. Many canine health practitioners report having great success when using this technique.
- Our experience: Laser therapy is reportedly completely safe and painless, so if you’re still looking for something to add to your dog’s wellness plan, it could be worth a try to see if it’s the right fit.
More About How CBD and Cannabinoids Can Help
Current studies show that CBD (specifically, full-spectrum CBD products like Dr.Hempdog) and many of the other compounds found in Dr.Hempdog are powerful anti-inflammatories and painkilling agents.
It is so difficult to witness one of our beloved animals starting to slow down as arthritis sets in. However, words can’t describe the incredible feeling of watching a furry friend experience relief in a matter of days after starting on Dr.Hempdog, giving them a new lease on life and giving us years of extra time to spend with our best friends. We’ve also heard countless powerful testimonies from customers who’ve had similar experiences with our CBD products, so we know it can help.
Numerous studies support CBD’s effectiveness and safety in dogs with arthritis, such as:
- A recent 2020 study, which demonstrated that CBD oil could potently relieve inflammation and pain in arthritic dogs, increasing their mobility without notable side effects.
- A 2018 study, which similarly showed that CBD was able to significantly alleviate pain in arthritic dogs without any undesirable side effects.
If you employ some of the tactics we’ve discussed, find a good vet, are mindful about diets, and invest enough time in your dog’s wellness routine, you can have incredible success managing their arthritis. We’ve helped thousands of senior dogs get the most out of their golden years, so we understand and empathize with the many challenges that arthritis can bring.
If you have any questions at all about arthritis in dogs and how our CBD products could help them age with comfort and dignity, you can easily schedule a free 15-minute consult with our staff by visiting our website. Alternatively, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or text/call us at (720) 773-9595 during standard business hours.
Other Helpful Resources and Products for Arthritis
These allow you to keep your dog’s paw’s oriented the right way to help address any knuckling behaviors, though do be aware that you need to be careful to get the right size. We recommend either Walkin’ Pets’s Rear No-Knuckling Training Sock or their Front No-Knuckling Training Sock, based on whether your dog is knuckling with their rear or front paws, respectively.
Glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) are all great joint supplements for arthritis, and can be found across many retailers (Acti-Flex K9 combines all of those supplements into one, making it especially convenient). In particular, we recommend wild salmon oil, as its known to help with a variety of conditions that senior dogs may face, including arthritis.
- Probiotics can improve the bioavailability of joint supplements (and other supplements and nutrients), so we recommend using things like Thorne Vet’s probiotics to enhance your dog’s supplementation routine. You can ask your vet to recommend you other good probiotics as well.
- Turmeric is incredibly affordable and incredibly effective for joint inflammation, and should be combined with wild salmon oil and a small amount of black pepper for the best results. For an average fifty-pound dog, we aim for half a teaspoon of turmeric with every meal; we recommend putting the turmeric under wet/raw food (something with a strong taste) in order to hide the flavor until they get used to it Slowly increase the amount you add until you reach the desired dose. You can find organic powdered turmeric online or in most grocery stores.
- Green Lipped Mussels contain glucosamine and a variety of unique enzymes and nutrients that can further enhance your dog’s dietary routine.
- Spirulina is a healthy type of blue-green algae that has been shown to improve gut health and immune function in dogs, and is widely known to be both immensely nutritional and highly anti-inflammatory. It's important that you only ever give your dog high-quality spirulina, as cheaper spirulina products can carry a high risk of contamination. Because of this, it's typically best to purchase spirulina directly from a reputable manufacturer (such as Earthrise, which sells human-grade spirulina) rather than third-party resellers.
Also known as dog-lifting harnesses, these are incredibly useful tools for dogs who are struggling to get around on their own, and can be used to help your dog while climbing the stairs, getting into and out of the car, or otherwise having an easier time moving. Be sure to fit your harness carefully for your dog and secure it snugly, as any unnecessary rubbing or chafing can make it unpleasant to use for longer periods of time.
As a quick side note: some people feel like support harnesses are embarrassing to use, but that couldn't be farther from the truth! These can give your dog extra security and the confidence to get wherever they want to go.
Adequan is an FDA-approved injection of pure glucosamine that can help with degenerative joint disease by slowing cartilage loss; for more information, consult adequan's website, which explains how it works in more detail. In our experience, adequan is an extremely effective, consistent, and safe option for more severe arthritis cases. If you're interested in using adequan for your dog, talk to your vet, as you’ll typically need a prescription as well as appropriate training on how to inject your dog safely.
Finding Holistic Care Professionals
If you aren’t sure where to look for an animal massage therapist, acupuncturist, or chiropractor, online resources like the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society’s acupuncturist lookup or PetWork’s animal caregiver search (which includes a wide array of holistic health professionals) can be invaluable.
Additional Resources We Like
- Dr. Nell's Senior Pet Guide: Dr. Nell, an excellent holistic veterinarian from Portland, OR, has published this great resource discussing best practices for diet, exercise, and general care for senior dogs / dogs suffering from arthritis. Dr. Nell also provides insightful online webinars, and regularly maintains a Facebook page filled with helpful information for animals of all varieties and ages.