None of us want to see the symptoms of our dog’s getting older. It’s upsetting and scary to think about our beloved dog entering the later stages of life. The good news is that if you can recognize the subtle signs of arthritis early, you can get ahead of it and prolong your dog’s comfort long into his golden years.

Early Signs of Arthritis

Symptoms

  • Cautious and/or Slipping when walking on hardwood or tile floors
  • Playing less
  • Walking slower or stopping for breaks during walks
  • Exercise intolerance for long walks
  • Decreased appetite
  • Irritability, especially when touched
  • Slower to rise from laying or sitting position
  • Intermittent lameness
  • Stiff gait
  • Difficulty navigating stairs
  • Decreased appetite
  • Loss of interest in doing his/her favorite things
  • Sleeping more, moving less

Management

A whole food, fresh diet is the most important thing that you can do for your aging dog.

Commercial raw is the best choice. A commercial cooked diet is a great second choice. Other diet options include balanced home cooked, balanced home prepared raw, freeze-dried, air dried, or human grade dehydrated. Avoid processed kibble and treats. Examples of brands that I recommend are K9 Kravings, Stella and Chewy, Primal, Ziwi, Zeal, Honest Kitchen, Sunday’s Dog Food, JustFoodForDogs, NomNomNow, Ollie, Farmer’s dog. If you prefer to home-cook, then I recommend using recipes from balanceit.com.

Maintaining your dog at his or her ideal weight is essential to protecting the joints and keeping your dog mobile for as long as possible. One of the saddest things I see is a dog euthanized years before his/her time due to immobility, where obesity is a major factor. This is completely preventable. Ideal weight means that your dog has a waist or hour glass shape, and you can feel ribs and hips just below the surface, but they are not protruding.

Omega 3s for Joint Support

Sources that I recommend include green lipped muscles, krill oil, and sardines in water (no salt).

Green lipped mussels are not only a wonderful source of omega fatty acids, but also contain chondroitin sulfate.

Be sure that if you buy an omega 3 oil, it has an air-proof pump to prevent rancidity.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

Oral glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been shown to control inflammation in dogs. Adequan is a concentrated injectable form of glucosamine that is a good choice for more advanced arthritis.

Turmeric

This spice along with its active ingredient, curcumin, has been proven to reduce pain and inflammation. In one study, curcumin significantly decreased the expression of genes involved in inflammation more effectively than non-steroidal drugs.

Physical Therapy

This is a great way to support your dog’s joints and overall wellbeing. This is also the perfect option for when your pet also needs to lose weight and strengthen his/her core. Physical therapy can benefit mobility in profound ways.

Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy is a regenerative medicine used to treat osteoarthritis, as well as other injuries, to bones, joints, tendons and spinal cords.

Researchers theorize that when applied to an arthritic joint, stem cells might: Develop into needed cartilage cells, suppress inflammation that can make arthritis worse and release proteins (cytokines) that slow down cartilage degeneration and/or decrease pain.

The goal of stem cell therapy in dogs is to regenerate tissue in the part of a body that has been damaged.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a safe, non-pharmacologic intervention with minimal adverse effects. Acupuncture promotes the body to heal itself.

By correcting the imbalance of energy in the body, veterinary acupuncture encourages healing. Nervous system stimulation, blood circulation and the release of anti-inflammatory hormones is enhanced by acupuncture.

Massage and Heat Therapy

This is a treatment that you can provide at home on a daily basis. Gently massaging around your dog’s joints and muscles along his/her back can be very therapeutic and enjoyable for your old guy. It’s also a great way to connect with your dog.

Laser Therapy

This employs deep-penetrating light to promote a chain of chemical reactions known as photobiostimulation. This process helps relieve pain through the release of endorphins, and it stimulates injured cells to heal at an accelerated pace.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories

This type of medication may become necessary in the later stages of arthritis. This treatment does have potential side effects such as gastric ulceration, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, liver enzyme elevations and potential renal damage.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories should be reserved for patients who have been treated with most of the above recommendations and still require more help.

Bloodwork should be monitored every 3-6 months while taking these medications. If gastrointestinal symptoms develop, this must be medication stopped immediately. Some arthritic patients will only improve when given this medication, therefore the benefit will outweigh the potential risk in these dogs.

Pain Medication

Arthritic pain should be managed. If you have tried many of the above recommendations and your dog still appears uncomfortable, then pain medications may be indicated. Medications commonly used for arthritic pain include gabapentin and tramadol.

It is important to monitor your particular dog’s response to these type of meds. Some of my more advanced patients cannot get up without them, while with others the sedative effect make them worse.

By keeping your dog’s wellbeing a priority as he/she ages, you can make a significant difference in the length and quality of his/her life. The earlier you treat symptoms, the better results you will get.

Supporting your senior dog through this stage of life doesn’t have to be filled with trepidation for you and discomfort for your dog. It can be a time of bonding, closeness and support. It’s an opportunity to reciprocate the unconditional love your dog has shown you through the years.