Management of Arthritis

2021-12-31Updated: 2016-12-31 Nolan River Animal Hospital

It is never easy to see a beloved pet and friend in pain. Medical treatment of arthritis has greatly improved in the last several years thanks to the introduction and approval of several new drugs and supplements. And while there is not yet a cure for this debilitating disease, there is much you can do to control the pain, make your pet comfortable, and perhaps slow down the progression of the symptoms. The best results come from a multi-modal therapy comprised of multiple different treatments.

Weight management and diet choice

Weight management is the first thing that must be addressed. All surgical and medical procedures will work much better if the animal is not overweight. Considering that up to half of the pets in the U.S. are overweight, there is a fair chance that many of the dogs with degenerative joint disease are also overweight. Getting the dog down to his recommended weight and keeping it there may be the most important thing an owner can do for their dog. This may be the hardest part of the treatment, but it is well worth it. Very few dogs can drive to McDonalds, work a can opener, or open the refrigerator, so you, the owner, are controlling what your dog eats. If you feed your dog less, it will lose weight. In addition, there are specific diets formulated for pets with degenerative joint disease. We can help you decide which diet is best for your pet.


Exercise is the next important step. What we are trying to accomplish here is to restrict the amount of exercising, yet still maintain adequate movement to increase or maintain muscle strength. Young, active dogs are going to need to be restricted to walks on the leash. Swimming is an excellent way for dogs to maintain muscle mass, but place minimal stress on the joints. Older dogs should also participate in these activities to a lesser extent. Jumping in all forms is bad for dogs with arthritis. While watching a dog play Frisbee is very enjoyable and fun for the dog, remember that it is very hard on a dog's joints. Remember, it is important to exercise daily; only exercising on weekends, for instance, may cause more harm than good if the animal is sore for the rest of the week and becomes reluctant to move at all.

Provide warmth and good sleeping areas

When it is very cold, slip a sweater on your dog. Arthritis tends to worsen in cold, damp weather. A pet sweater will help keep joints warmer. You may want to consider keeping the temperature in your home a little warmer, too. Provide a firm, orthopedic foam bed. Beds with dome-shaped, orthopedic foam distribute weight evenly and reduce pressure on joints. They are also much easier to get out of. Place the bed in a warm spot away from drafts.

Massage and acupuncture

Massage of the muscles around the joint affected with arthritis may help to relax stiff muscles and promote a good range of motion in the joints. Remember, your dog is in pain, so start slow and build trust. Start by petting the area and work up to gently kneading the muscles around the joint with your fingertips using a small, circular motion. Gradually work your way out to the surrounding muscles. Moist heat is also beneficial. A water bottle or soaked towel works best. Many people with aches and pains report that acupuncture helps to alleviate pain. We can refer you and your pet to a licensed animal acupuncturist if you would like.

Make daily activities less painful

Going up and down stairs is often difficult for arthritic pets, and for dogs, it can make going outside to urinate and defecate very difficult. A ramp will help your pet getting into the car and prevent putting a large amount of stress on joints when jumping out of the car. Larger breed dogs can especially benefit from elevating their food and water bowls. Elevated feeders make eating and drinking more comfortable for arthritic pets, particularly if there is stiffness in the neck or back.


Anti-inflammatory drugs Rimadyl and Metacam are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs developed for use in dogs with osteoarthritis. They are prescription products and because of potential side effects, careful adherence to dosing quantity and frequency must be followed. We recommend screening bloodwork every 6 months for dogs taking these drugs daily. Often the dose of Metacam or Rimadyl can be decreased after joint supplements have reached their desired levels in the body (often 6 weeks.) Human medications such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen should never be given to dogs.

Other Pain Relievers

Other medications are also available when anti-inflammatory medications are not adequately controlling pain. These medications work in a different way to relieve pain and can be used in conjunction with anti-inflammatory drugs. Some examples are tramadol, amantadine, and hydrocodone.


Joint supplements are non prescription drugs, but they can often greatly improve mobility and slow the progression of arthritis.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin:

Glucosamine and Chondroitin enhance the formation and protection of cartilage and inhibit enzymes in the joint which tend to break down cartilage. They also give the cartilage-forming cells (chondrocytes), the building blocks they need to synthesize new cartilage and to repair the existing damaged cartilage. These products are not painkillers; they work by actually healing the damage that has been done. These products generally take at least six weeks to begin to heal the cartilage and most animals will need to be maintained on these products the rest of their lives to prevent further cartilage breakdown. Because these products are naturally-occurring compounds, they are very safe to use and show very few side effects. There are many different glucosamine/chondroitin products on the market, but they are not all created equal. We have seen the best results and fewest side effects from products that are formulated especially for dogs and which contain pure ingredients that are human grade in quality. We can assist you in deciding which products are best for your pet.

Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan (Adequan):

Adequan is a product that is administered in an injection. A series of shots are given over weeks and very often have favorable results. The cost and the inconvenience of weekly injections are a deterrent to some owners, especially since the oral glucosamine products are so effective. This product helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage and may help with the synthesis of new cartilage. It is recommended to use either oral glucosmine/chondroitan or injectable Adequan but not both together.

Fatty Acids

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids(Docosahexaenoic acid/DHA & Eicosapentaenoic acid/EPA) has been shown to improve joint health by decreasing inflammation in the body. Welactin is a salmon oil available in a liquid that can be poured over your dog�s food every day. It may take 6 weeks before benefits can be seen in your dog�s mobility. Studies also show that omega fatty acids can help prevent senility & brain aging.