Especially prevalent in older dogs, arthritis is something many pet parents eventually must address. And while the condition typically cannot be cured, dog arthritis natural remedies can provide afflicted pets with improved mobility and quality of life.
A combination of holistic remedies helped Roz, a female Pomeranian dog living in Costa Mesa, California.
“At about 5 years of age, and after gaining a couple of pounds, Roz began favoring her back legs when walking,” says her dog mom, Marilyn Iturri. “Sometimes she’d hold up her left hind leg and put no weight on it, and sometimes it was her back right leg.”
Her veterinarian diagnosed Roz with bilateral patellar luxation, a condition in which the kneecap dislocates from its proper position, and which can cause arthritis, Iturri explains.
Like an increasing number of pet parents, Iturri says she started her dog’s arthritis treatment with less invasive and less expensive therapies than the recommended corrective surgery.
“First, I started limiting her food intake to lose the weight she had gained,” she says. “She thought she was starving—and still does.
“We put her on a daily dose of glucosamine … and added Carprofen short-term for pain,” she continues. “I also massaged the muscles around the knees a few times a week for general comfort.”
Her veterinarian also recommended Adequan injections. Within six weeks of adding Adequan, Roz stopped favoring either leg, Iturri says, even at the dog park where she exerts herself most strongly. Since then, Roz remains quite comfortable.
“I have seen her limp only once since the treatment, and that was for only a few steps,” Iturri says. “She is happy and always looks forward to her walks.”
Many pet parents like Iturri who are dealing with dog arthritis seek out natural remedies for managing their dog’s condition.
“They generally are trying to avoid using chemicals produced synthetically that may have more side effects,” says Judy Morgan, DVM, an integrative veterinarian and owner of Clayton Veterinary Associates and Churchtown Veterinary Associates, both in New Jersey. “Natural remedies also can have side effects, but generally they are less severe.”
Understanding Arthritis in Dogs
“By definition, arthritis is inflammation of the joints," Dr. Morgan says. “This can include any joint in the body where two bones joint together.”
The causes of this inflammatory process can range from poor joint structure and excessive wear and tear to poor nutrition and some medications (such as Enrofloxacin) given to young, growing dogs, Dr. Morgan says.
Most dog parents notice symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty moving
- Limping or lameness
- Reduced interest in exercise and other activities
- Irritability and snapping or growling when a sore joint is pushed or touched
If you’re seeing any of these signs in your pooch, this calls for a veterinary visit. Sometimes a veterinarian can diagnose arthritis simply by palpating your dog as his joint flexes and extends.
“It feels like there are rice krispies in there,” Dr. Morgan says, adding that for a definitive diagnosis of arthritis in dogs, radiographs are performed.
10 Dog Arthritis Natural Remedies
Once you have a diagnosis, your veterinarian can help you develop a dog arthritis treatment plan. Arthritis in dogs is not a curable condition, but there are many treatments and therapies available to effectively control and manage your pet’s pain and discomfort.
Let the label and your veterinarian be your guide as you help your arthritic canine companion return to a less painful and more active lifestyle.
“There is no reason to allow your pet to suffer with untreated pain,” Dr. Morgan says. “For many pets, this may require a multi-modal approach, meaning you may need to keep adding therapies until you achieve the desired effect."
“Weight management is the most important part of therapy,” Dr. Morgan says. “A dog who is more than 5 percent overweight will have decreased mobility.
“Most pets are much more than 5 percent overweight,” she continues. “Getting the pet down to a lean body weight can decrease the amount of treatments necessary and greatly decrease medication usage.”
When we think of natural pet supplements for joint health, first to mind often is glucosamine. But many other natural anti-inflammatories “help restore joint health by providing nutrients for cell repair,” Dr. Morgan says, “including chondroitin, green lipped mussel, deer antler velvet and colostrum.”
Administered at home via treats, pills, liquids and food additives, many joint supplements work to stimulate joint function and repair while reducing inflammation and relieving pain, Dr. Morgan says.
Medusa, a calm, sweet-tempered female Bull Terrier in Lake Forest, California, got along with everyone, including the family tortoise and chickens. And she loved joining mom Elizabeth Anderson Lopez on outings they called "doggy adventures."
But at around 9 years old, Medusa started having trouble getting out of bed. She also acted like her back was sore at times.
“She loved to play ball, but we learned that we had to curb how long we let her play and how far we threw it because she was clearly in pain later that day, often spending the rest of the day/evening in her bed,” Lopez says.
With their veterinarian’s guidance, they started Medusa on Nutramax Cosequin, which contains glucosamine and chondroitin, to assist with her aches and pains.
“It was nice to give her a chewable that was like a daily treat,” Lopez says.
Though Lopez noticed a difference in Medusa’s day-to-day life, the dog needed something stronger as she aged. Lopez put Medusa on Rimadyl to improve her quality of life during her final years.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is new to the market and quite popular in many places. Found in products from edible treats to oils/liquids to topical creams, CBD works with a dog’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) by binding to the ECS’s receptors to help create calm and balance so the body can self-heal.
“It can provide relief from pain and inflammation for many pets,” Dr. Morgan says.
When Mozart, a Miniature Pinscher with a very sweet disposition, was diagnosed with arthritis, he was about 8 years old.
“He went from being very active—spinning—to very slow getting up,” says Tammy Larson, his dog mom, in Tacoma, Washington. “He also was diabetic, so we changed his food to wheat-free and gave supplements such as CBD elixir to help him.”
“It perked him up pretty much right away and helped him move better,” Larson says. “It even improved his behavior from whining from pain to being his sweet self!”
Most of us have heard of acupuncture, a staple of traditional Chinese medicine. Veterinary acupuncture also is used for dog arthritis pain relief.
“It's been around for thousands of years, and acupuncture works very well for many patients,” Dr. Morgan says. “It is possible to decrease heat, swelling and inflammation using acupuncture.”
A veterinary acupuncturist inserts fine needles into the dog’s body to stimulate nerve pathways along "meridians," she explains. During the process, the body releases chemicals, such as endorphins, which are feel-good hormones and also decrease pain.
Cold Laser Therapy
Performed in-clinic, “cold laser therapy uses certain light wavelengths that decrease pain and inflammation and increase blood flow through the area to bring healing blood cells into the joint,” Dr. Morgan says. “Class IV cold laser therapy has been working very well in my practices.”
John and Carol Boker in Reading, Pennsylvania, have adopted several older dogs over the years. One in particular who suffered with arthritis was a Chocolate Labrador Retriever named Sarah. She had a typical Lab personality and energy until around 11 years old.
“It was harder [for Sarah] to stand up and to run around like she used to,” Carol Boker says.
They gave her glucosamine/chondroitin tablets, which helped at first. When she got worse, Sarah’s veterinarian suggested cold laser therapy for dog arthritis pain relief.
“We took Sarah once or twice a week for 15-minute treatments,” Boker says. “They were very relaxing for her, and she immediately showed improvement in her mobility.”
For the rest of Sarah’s life, the Bokers would rotate taking her off the treatments for a couple months, Boker says, and then revisit them when her mobility suffered.
Canine physical therapy, also called rehabilitation, includes a variety of techniques to help dogs lose weight, improve mobility and reduce pain, Dr. Morgan says. Modalities can include cavaletti training that teaches dogs to walk over poles and other obstacles, stretching, passive range of motion, underwater treadmill and swimming.
Europe was the first to use canine physical therapy in the 1980s with the U.S. following by the early 1990s. Some physical therapy for dogs can be performed by pet parents under a veterinarian’s guidance. More complicated therapies require a specialist. Your veterinarian will help you pinpoint where to begin for your arthritic dog’s unique situation.
Prolotherapy (“prolo” is short for proliferation) is also known as nonsurgical ligament reconstruction and is “an injection technique that stimulates the growth of healthy connective tissue to help strengthen torn or weakened ligaments and tendons and eliminate chronic pain,” Dr. Morgan says.” There is minimal risk of complications, and pain associated with the procedure is generally mild.”
The solution typically injected into the dog’s affected ligament and joint is a combination of natural substances like dextrose, lidocaine or procaine, and vitamin B12. The injected solution induces inflammation, which triggers the dog’s own body to grow healthy, strong connective tissue and stabilize the unstable joints. An injection may not sound like your typical “natural” therapy, but prolotherapy is considered natural because the dog’s own body is doing the healing and repair work, Dr. Morgan explains.
“Anti-inflammatory drugs should not be given, as inflammation is what we are producing to get the scar tissue to stabilize the joint,” she adds. “Inflammation brings in more blood flow, which brings oxygen with the red blood cells and healing proteins and antibodies with the white blood cells and platelets.”
The concept behind prolotherapy dates back to ancient times, though today’s techniques were developed in the 1930s.
Who doesn’t love a good massage? As a dog arthritis natural remedy, massage can benefit our pooches by increasing circulation to the muscles, tendons and ligaments around the joints, Dr. Morgan says.
Since massage is a relatively new therapy in veterinary medicine, many of the techniques are borrowed from human massage therapy. They include acupressure, trigger-point massage, craniosacral therapy and passive range of motion.
Another ancient practice now used to provide dog arthritis pain relief is chiropractic care. Manipulation of the spine, joints and other affected areas increase nerve and blood flow to the joints, Dr. Morgan says.
Veterinary chiropractic is one therapy where results can be immediate. So, you might get to see improvement in your dog within minutes of treatment!
Adequan (polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) entered the US market in 1978 to treat joint pain in horses, and the FDA approved a canine version in 1997. Available by prescription only, Dr. Morgan says the injections have been wonderful for her patients.
“The injections are given in the muscle or under the skin,” she says. “Adequan helps rebuild healthy joint fluid and lubricate the joints.”
Though Adequan is labeled as a drug, Dr. Morgan says, many veterinarians think of it as more of a natural remedy because the medicine is derived from cow tracheas then only slightly modified in a laboratory for stability. “It’s basically the building blocks for joint fluid, which increases the lubrication of the joints and improves mobility with decreased pain,” she says.
Combining Arthritis Dogs Treatment
Many dog arthritis natural remedies can be combined with traditional pain relief therapies, such as NSAIDs, tramadol, amantadine, gabapentin, steroids and more, Dr. Morgan says.
“I like people to understand that there are always more tools in the toolbox to treat arthritis,” she says. “Some dogs have horrible joints on radiographs yet show little pain. Others have minimal changes on X-ray yet act stiff and sore and don't want to move. Pain tolerance is different for each individual.”
“While I always treat first with natural therapies and remedies, I will add in prescription medications when needed to control pain,” she adds. “Sometimes it takes a combination of many therapies and supplements and medications when the disease reaches an advanced state.”