Putting the pieces together for arthritis management in dogs

Just like a jigsaw, there are many pieces that must be connected together to create the picture of ideal arthritis management in dogs. Although it can be overwhelming thinking about all these pieces at once, here I explain each piece of the puzzle, its importance and how you can be aware and apply what you can in the management of arthritis in your beloved baby.

1. Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists are able to apply the same principles used in humans with arthritis, to our furry babies. There are many pain management strategies, like heat therapy or massage, but most important is exercise therapy which helps to build muscles and support joints so movement easier and better. You can visit a physio for your dog OR physios like me can help guide you to doing treatment for your dog at home, saving you time and money. 

dog strengthening exercise

Strengthening exercises that can be done at home can save you time and money AND save your dog the stress of travelling for therapy!

2. Home modifications

It is as much their home as ours. We must ensure that the home environment allows our dogs to be safe from injury and as pain free as possible. For example, slippery floors can cause injury and more pain so you can modify the flooring by adding mats or non slip tape, or if tolerated, non slip booties for your dog to wear. Another example is stairs, in very advanced stages of the arthritis stairs can cause your dog huge amounts of discomfort, so if possible help them avoid stairs or use a harness that assists in lifting your dog up the stairs…or you can install a lift!

dog lift

A chair lift could be needed with advanced arthritis, not only for their comfort but for yours too!

3. Appropriate exercise

Doing too much or too little exercise can be harmful to our dogs so it’s important to manage the amount that they do well. One statement I often hear is “we don’t walk them anymore because they’re really old”. Omitting walks is detrimental to your dog for two main reasons, the first is the mental stimulation they get when they’re outside and not having that may make them depressed, and secondly walking is important to overcome stiffness so not walking your dog can lead to more stiffness and pain. It may mean something like 4 x 5 minute walks during the day, it’s important to understand where your dog is at to determine the amount of exercise they need, and your vet will help. 

4. Lifestyle changes

If you’ve always gone hiking with your dog, a lifestyle change may mean instead of a 20km hike, you reduce this to suit their capabilities. It may mean that they can do 5km but for the remaining 15km you push them in a pram. It may also mean they may need a wheelchair. These changes are important to ensure that your dog is comfortable. It also means really reading your dog, they may show you they want to do 20km but you need to put on your therapist hat and ask yourself, should they?

dog wheelchair

A wheelchair can be a great way for you and your dog to do what you love, without any increase in pain. 

5. Pain control

Your vet will guide you to the type, amount and frequency of pain relief. Pain relief is important because it means your dog is more pain free AND it allows them to keep moving to avoid pain from stiffness as well as allowing them to be comfortable as they do strengthening exercises which are crucial to moving better and a better quality of life. 

6. Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy adds great variety to an exercise program. Exercises under water can mean muscles are used in a way that they aren’t used on land, also the buoyancy puts less stress on the joints when exercising which is important in late stages of arthritis. Exercises can also be easily progressed with an under water treadmill. 

7. Weight control

Excessive fat not only adds extra pressure on sore, arthritic joints, but also encourages inflammation in joints. Talk to your vet to ensure your dog is at a healthy weight and if not, create a management plan to reduce their weight. Not only can excessive fat mean more pain for your dog but also increases the risk of other diseases AND reduces life expectancy by about 2 years. 

8. Supplements

There are so many supplements out there and it is really confusing knowing which one to choose. Discuss with your vet which ones can be taken safely by your dog and which ones they know to be the most effective. They are important in optimising joint health to minimise arthritic symptoms. Ideally you want to add one supplement at a time and keep a close eye for any improvements, otherwise if you introduce too many at once it is hard to tell which ones are actually working and which ones aren’t or which ones are giving your dog side effects. 

9. Surgery

Sometimes the joint is so damaged by arthritis that no amount of treatment helps to manage pain and maintain function, so this is when surgery is needed. A joint replacement may be expensive but by removing the damaged bone ends that are the arthritic joint, it helps to take away the source of pain. A lot of my patients leave their arthritis untreated for so long and when I see them they really need surgery but the surgery is too risky at their age. It’s good to have a plan in place with your vet to make sure the surgery is done at the best time.  

xray hip thr

On the left you can see the hip joint prior to replacement and then on the right with the hip replacement in place.  

Phewww, isn’t that ALOT to take in?? I don’t want this to add any anxiety or guilt about what you think you should be doing, it is merely a way to explain that treating arthritis is a multi-modal approach (not one single treatment but many combined for the best effect) so you can examine whichever treatment options are possible for you as a loving and caring dog parent, and doing your best with those options. 

If you have any questions please feel free to email me.

Here’s to helping your dog live and move well,

Kylie ❤️🐾

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