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Managing arthritis in older dogs

Updated on March 4, 2014

By Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin

A little trembling on the limbs of my older schnauzer, Misty, signaled that a trip to the vet's was in order.

Having had a neurological breakdown about a year earlier, this was another routine health check for her.

I mentioned her shaking limbs to the vet, and Misty was diagnosed as having the signs of aging and arthritis. The diagnosis didn't surprise me. After all, Misty is almost 13 years of age.

Canine arthritis occurs the same way in both pets and, perhaps, their owners as well. If you have a dog, chances are that you will have to manage this slightly debilitating condition someday.


Causes of arthritis in older dogs

More research has been done on humans than on dogs where arthritis is concerned. Fortunately, the processes that contribute to this painful condition are the same in both dogs and humans.

Joint Changes

Hyaline cartilage covers most joints. This allows joints to be more flexible. Having a rubbery consistency, it also absorbs shock.

Collagen and proteoglycans and form the bulk of your pet's joints. They act to stabilize them. Between each joint is synovial fluid which separates your pet's bones.

When joints begin to fail, it's usually because cells known as chrondocytes in the peripheral areas are starved for nutrients known as mucopolysaccharicides. They are no longer able to repair normally.

Alternatively, synovial fluid could deplete, causing sharp pain in the dog's joints.

Joint infection or dislocation

In older dogs, infected joints will likely trigger arthritis and pain. A dislocated joint will also exacerbate the onset of arthritis.


If your dog has been in an accident and broke his joints, this will

Signs of arthritis in older dogs

A dog with arthritis will find it difficult to move. This is often more apparent after it gets up from a nap.

Some behavioral changes may occur. Your pet may become irritable, He may also become increasingly stubborn. Misty sometimes absolutely refuses to walk in the park when she knows she can't cross drains or move on any further.

Larger dogs are usually bred to be resilient and uncomplaining. They usually won't let you know they are in pain until the arthritis is quite advanced.

Athritis seems to be worse in pets that are overweight. The excess weight naturally adds pressure to an already weakened joint.

Dealing with your dog's arthritis includes....

  • Weight management
  • Exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Making changes to the environment
  • Making changes to his lifestyle

Managing your pet's arthritis

This is a fairly common condition in both dogs and humans, so a wide variety of treatment options are available. There are also a few things that you can do to help your pet manage the difficulties he has in his joints.

Weight management

If the cause of your dog's arthritis is obesity, weight management may be the answer to helping him to reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Studies show that reducing weight leads to the improved quality of a dog's life. '

Managing your dog's weight also eases the dog's ability to climb stairs or even get up from a seating position. Regular exercise helps to increase the dog's metabolic rate and muscle mass, which will help greatly in reducing joint pain.


Dogs love to do what they doggy do. Dogs love their regular walks. A walk for Misty has helped to slow down her arthritis significantly.

Therapeutic exercises like swimming and agility exercises like going up and down ramps are highly beneficial for older dogs with arthritis.

Swimming is also a good exercise for dogs. with canine arthritis. The buoyancy of the water limits stress on the dog's joints. It also increases the strength in the dog's muscles and improves their mobility.

If the dog experiences pain after any activity, decrease it by half. If the dog has walked for a long time, a 10 minute warm down will help its muscles to cool and relax.


Purina and Hills, two popular dog food brands, have introduced Purina JM and Hills JD., diets specific to dogs with arthritic conditions. These contain EPA and DHA acids which help to reduce inflammation in the dog's joints. These foods also contain gluccosamine and chronoitin, agents that act to slow the onset of arthritis.


Older pets may find it very hard to move around with arthritis, and may ease themselves indiscriminately if they have other problems like a flabby spinchter muscles.

A vet has recommended treatments for incontinence. Special pet bed liners are also available to prevent urine scald.

Extra padding when walking

Dogs with arthritis will appreciate the help of a little extra padding. Encourage them to walk on padded surfaces like carpeting or rugs. Padded surfaces ease the pain in their joints.

The disadvantage of this is that these animals are also often incontinent. Have a waterproof membrane below your carpet that can be removed for cleaning.


Place the dog's water dish near him because he finds it harder to move. They are also more comfortable eating from elevated containers., so placing their bowls on a low step stool helps them greatly.

Give them a warm, cozy bed. This will ease the pain that comes with arthritis.

Percentage of dogs with arthritis, University of Missouri, Columbia

Dogs with Arthritis
Middle Aged

Dogs with arthritis

Traditional medication and side effects

Traditional medication and side effects

NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs)

NSAIDS are effective is reducing the pain of arthritis. However, these tend to have negative effects on the dog's stomach and he might lose interest in food. Alternatively, he may develop diarrhea.

In extreme cases, the dog may also develop dry eye problems or problems with his liver.

Available ones are Previcox, EtoGesic and Metacam. Consult your veterinarian as to the best medication that suits your pet.


Arthritis in older dogs requires a few lifestyle changes to help them to manage.

Original work by Michelle Liew Tsui-Lin All Rights Reserved


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    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Peg!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Your pictures are adorable of your sweet pet. Our older dog is fourteen and suffers with arthritis pain. She eats special no-grain food to help her allergies (Nutro we get at PetSmart) and Glucosamine tablets to help her joints. The Vet also told us she needed fish oil to supplement her diet. It is sad to watch them get elderly. I remember when she was small new and joined our gang of 3 others.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Kidscrafts!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you so much, cmoneyspinner!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Writer Fox!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Ths is true, Jackie, thank you. It's hard to watch her getting old before we do. But, I take comfort in that she's lived a good life!

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      7 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      One thing that often helps is glucosamine and chondroitin. You can find this at any pharmacy or on Amazon. It was originally only used for dogs, but now it is recommended for people, too. Hope your dog gets better! Enjoyed and voted up.

    • kidscrafts profile image


      7 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      First of all, I am sorry to hear that your Misty is having some health issues. Dogs and cats are like us; because of science, we have the knowledge to have our pets live a long life but like us they develop some old age conditions.

      I have an almost 18 years old cat and I can see that she is not so strong anymore on her legs. We visit the vet on a regular base to try to keep her on top of everything. The poor cat doesn't ear as well either! On the other end, I am thinking that I received a gift because she is in our life since almost 18 years.

      I didn't know that some food producers created food taht could help dogs with arthritic conditions. May be at my next visit to the vet, I should enquire about that for my cat.

      Another great hub about health for our life companions, Michelle!

      Voted up, useful, interesting and awesome!

      Enjoy your day!

    • cmoneyspinner1tf profile image

      Treathyl FOX 

      7 years ago from Austin, Texas

      I am so not a dog person. But I voted this HUB up because I'm sure the info is valuable to dog lovers.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      7 years ago from the beautiful south

      Sounds like fantastic dog foods to help with all those things, makes you wish they would make some for people. I know it must be very trying for you, losing a pet is bad but watching it deteriorate is just a constant pain in the heart. I would think walking would be a great thing and maybe in warmer weather a child's pool outside with warm water would limber up the bones and help with pain.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Hi, DDE, it can be so painful to see them suffer. Thanks for sharing!

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Bill, I hope he gets better! Hope this is useful too.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Valuable information my friend. We have an old lab that is going through this right now.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A painful experience with older dogs I had an older dog she suffered lots and eventually she could no longer take that pain at that time there was not much to do. Interesting and helpful points.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Hi, TSmog! I appreciate your lovely comment and I'm glad it's useful.

    • midget38 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Thanks, Rebecca!

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 

      7 years ago from Escondido, CA

      A well written and informative article midget38. You spelled out everything helping me to understand. Recently a close friend lost a pet where the first symptom(s) were arthritic. That caused awareness and this article has brought enlightenment, thank you. Also, having a diagnosis of osteoarthritis pondered much of the solutions for myself as well as understand the changes I may physically be undergoing today. I thank you for that as well.


    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      7 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      It is could to know we can help our senior pets with lifestyle changes, same as us. Thanks!


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