Getting a Leg Up on Dog Arthritis

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Dr Donna Spector

Arthritis is a common joint problem in dogs and is estimated to affect 20% of dogs older than one year of age (Johnston, 1997). Arthritis develops over time from disorders that cause joint tissue damage and inflammation (see Table 1).

Table 1: Joint disorders that lead to arthritis in dogs

Ligament or tendon injury (e.g. torn cruciate)
Developmental disorders (e.g. hip dysplasia)
Congenital disorders (e.g. luxated patella)
Nutritional disorders (e.g. obesity)
Cancer (e.g. osteosarcoma)
Degenerative joint disease
Inflammatory joint disease (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis)
Infectious disorders (e.g. bacteria, Lyme)


Joint disease often develops early in life but the signs of arthritis are often not apparent for several years. The pain of arthritis varies from mild to severe and can cause the following issues for your dog: stiffness while walking; limping; reluctance to rise, jump, go up or down stairs; or vocalization. Symptoms are often pronounced after resting and dogs tend to warm out of their pain, often leading to the incorrect assumption that it is just old age. If your dog exhibits any of these signs, visit your veterinarian for a full exam.

With a proper plan for diet, exercise and pain relief, you can improve your dog’s joint health and minimize the negative effects of arthritis on their quality of life.


Dogs that maintain an optimal body weight throughout life have a lower risk of developing arthritis. If arthritis does develop, it is less severe and occurs later in life than in overweight dogs (Larson, 2003; Kealy, 2000; Kealy, 2002). High quality, pet supplements from Halo, Purely for Pets help to maintain joint and skeletal health, as well as support your dog’s muscle development. Work with your veterinarian to develop a nutrition plan for your dog to achieve their ideal body weight.


It is important that your arthritic dog get daily exercise to keep muscles strong, which will, in turn, support their joints. Include a warm up and cool down period with every exercise session. Swimming is an excellent exercise for arthritic pets as it limits stress on joints and encourages a large range of motion. Leash and treadmill walking and low-impact stair climbing are also good exercises. Arthritic dogs should be limited in the amount of running, jumping and rough-housing they do. While they may have a great time playing fetch they will likely pay for their fun later with very sore joints.

Environmental control

Symptoms of arthritis are often worse after resting, as the floor and many pet beds do not offer the necessary support required by arthritic animals. Soft padded bedding or orthopedic foam beds are available and help reduce pressure on joints. Arthritis pain is often exacerbated by cold temperatures and can be alleviated by using sweaters and keeping pet beds away from cold air drafts. Stairs, elevated platforms (couches, beds, etc.) and automobiles often present challenges to your arthritic pet. You can create or purchase specially designed ramps to help your pet tackle these hurdles. Arthritic pets often have pain when bending to their feeding dishes and elevating their bowls can help alleviate the pressure on their joints during mealtime.

Physical therapy/acupuncture

Massage and physical therapy can improve the stiffness and muscle pain of arthritis. Your veterinarian can teach you passive range of motion exercises that will benefit your pet. Acupuncture is another therapy that can alleviate the pain of arthritis and your veterinarian can give you more details.


Anti-inflammatory medication effectively treats pain associated with arthritis and is a mainstay of therapy. Currently, there are no products available that prevent the development or completely stop the progression of arthritis.

Medications that eliminate inflammation and pain associated with arthritis include aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids. Negative side effects are common with both aspirin and steroids, making prescription NSAIDs (see Table 2) the most commonly used medication. NSAIDs can be used with dietary supplements, but should never be used together or with aspirin or steroids. These powerful medications can have side effects on the liver or kidneys and your veterinarian should perform blood work before and during their use to monitor your pet for problems.

Table 2: Common NSAIDs

Carprofen (Rimadyl ®, Novox ®)
Deracoxib (Deramaxx ®)
Etodolac (EtoGesic ®)
Ketoprofen (Ketofen ®)
Meloxicam (Metacam ®)


Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements are another cornerstone of arthritis therapy. These non-prescription products have been extensively studied in arthritic humans with many positive results (see Table 3 references). For guidance in choosing the best supplement for your dog, the following table (Table 3) lists common supplements and indicates whether research supports their use in dogs. I recommend starting with pet supplements that have been documented to benefit arthritic dogs. If those fail to provide relief for your dog, ask your veterinarian for other recommendations.

As many dietary supplements take weeks to exert positive effects in the joint, it is best to start them simultaneously with anti-inflammatory medication. After 4-6 weeks, the anti-inflammatory medication can often be reduced or stopped, and many dogs will remain pain-free on the dietary supplement alone.

Table 3: Dietary arthritis supplements

Dietary Supplement    Research proves beneficial in arthritic dogs
Cartilage-modifying agents
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate    YES
Glycosaminoglycans    YES
Hyaluronan    YES
Green Lipped Mussel    YES
Antioxidants    YES
Vitamin C    *
Vitamin E    *
Selenium    *
Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM)    *
Denosyl (SAMe)    *
Superoxide dismutase (SOD)    *
Omega-3 fatty acids    YES
Boswellia resin (Indian Frankincense)    YES
Special Milk Protein Concentrate    YES
Turmeric    NO
Avocado/Soy    *
Boron    *
Cat’s Claw    *
Creatine    *
Yucca    *
Manganese    *
Bromelain    *

* no research to date

References: Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulfate (McNamara, 1997), Green Lipped Mussel (Bui, 2003; Cho, 2003), Vitamin E (Sherak, 1990), MSM (Kim, 2006), Denosyl (Najm, 2004), Omega-3 fatty acids (Bartges, 2001; Curtis 2000, 2002; Roush, 2005), Turmeric (Innes, 2003), Avocado/Soy (Ernst, 2003), Boron (Newnham, 1994), Boswellia resin (Kimmatkar, 2003; Reichling, 2004), Cat’s Claw (Mur, 2002), Special Milk Protein Concentrate (Gingerich, 2003)

In arthritis, pain results from the joint cartilage wearing down to expose bone. The cartilage-modifying agents give the cartilage-forming cells the building blocks they need to make new cartilage and repair the damage. These agents, particularly glucosamine/chondroitin and green lipped mussel, have been well studied in pets and have been proven to be safe and slow the progression of arthritis (McNamara, 1997)

Antioxidants are substances or nutrients in food that prevent tissue damage to the body. When body cells use oxygen, they produce by-products (called free radicals) that can cause damage. Antioxidants act as “free radical scavengers” and prevent damage done by these by-products. Arthritis is thought to progress due to an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the antioxidants that counteract them in the joint (Bermejo-Vicedo, 1997; Mapp, 1995). Although many veterinarians recommend them, there are no controlled studies documenting a benefit of antioxidants in dogs with arthritis (see Table 3).

Omega-3 fatty acids are found abundantly in fish oils and flax. They reduce inflammation and cartilage break-down in people with arthritis. In addition, dogs supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids have significant improvement of arthritis symptoms. (Bartges, 2001).

Other dietary supplements are frequently recommended, however, most of these have never been evaluated in dogs with arthritis. If they have been studied (e.g., turmeric, boswellia resin, and special milk protein concentrate), the benefits experienced were usually very mild or controversial. (Innes, 2003; Reichling, 2004; Gingerich, 2003).

As an owner of an arthritic pet, you can have confidence in Halo® natural pet food and natural pet products. Halo® Spot’s Stew Dry natural dog food contains omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid pet obesity by feeding proper amounts of Halo natural dog food to help promote strong, lean muscles. Halo® Dream Coat ® pet supplement provides another source of omega-3 fatty acids. HaloHip and Joint pet supplement is an excellent glucosamine and chondroitin product that helps maintain and promote healthy joint cartilage in your dog.

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