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How to Ease the Pain of Arthritis in Dogs (2023)

The pain of arthritis in dogs is something they may be able to hide for a while.

At some point, however, the pain is going to show.

If your dog has trouble getting up after rest, is experiencing lameness in one or more legs, or is reluctant to engage in active play, it could be due to arthritis.

Thankfully, dogs with arthritis can benefit from a combination of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, joint supplements, and physical therapy.

Keep reading to uncover everything you need to know about managing arthritis in dogs. We’ve also provided a great YouTube video below on how to massage a dog with arthritis.

How arthritis affects older dogs

Arthritis doesn’t just develop in senior dogs. Osteoarthritis (OA) is, however, one of the most common conditions in dogs.

Underlying conditions like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and osteochondritis dissecans in younger dogs can set the stage for painful arthritis as the dog ages.

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), is common in dogs with certain risk factors. While age does play a role, there are several other risk factors involved. These are discussed later in this post.

Arthritis is a progressive disease that causes painful joint inflammation and cartilage degradation. It can even change bone shape.

The result of these changes is pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility.

What is cartilage, and why does it break down?

Think of cartilage like a soft pillow. It covers the surface of bone inside the joints and is covered with a small amount of fluid known as synovial fluid (see below).

The job of cartilage is to allow joints to extend through a full range of motion without friction.

Bone would rub on bone without cartilage. This decreases the range of motion, resulting in painful mobility issues for the dog.

What is synovial fluid, and why does it break down cartilage?

Synovial fluid is a clear, gummy fluid that fills the space between cartilage surfaces in a joint. Its job is to lubricate the joint, provide it with nutrients, and act as a shock absorber.

If that joint fluid dries up, the cartilage begins to weaken. This leads to damaged joints and is the primary cause of pain and inflammation in dogs with arthritis. The consequences of chronic arthritis in dogs include:

  • Decreased range of motion in the joints.
  • Pain
  • Lameness
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Decreased activity

Medical conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can trigger the thinning and degradation of synovial fluid in dogs and people.

how to ease the pain of arthritis in dogs

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

Arthritis in dogs can have many causes, including:


As the dog’s body ages, the quality of synovial fluid (joint fluid) declines. Changes occur in the composition of the fluid, making it less effective in lubricating the joints.


Certain dog breeds may be more susceptible to developing arthritis. Examples include:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • German shepherds
  • Golden retrievers


Excess weight puts extra stress on a dog’s joints. This stress can lead to joint damage and arthritis.


Injuries such as fractures or dislocations can damage the cartilage in a dog’s joints. This puts the dog at increased risk of developing arthritis later in life.


Joint infections can lead to inflammation and damage to the joint. Causes of joint infections in dogs include:

  • Bacterial infections (staphylococcus, streptococcus, and Escherichia coli)
  • Fungal infections (blastomycosis and histoplasmosis)
  • Tick-borne diseases (Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever).
  • Open wounds
  • Surgery
  • Immune system disorders (diabetes or cancer, for example)

Immune System Disorders

There are a variety of immune system disorders that can damage joints in dogs. These include the following:

  • Immune-mediated polyarthritis (IMPA)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (rare in dogs)
  • Canine chronic enteropathy (CE)
  • Immunodeficiency disorders

Developmental Disorders

Dogs are susceptible to a variety of developmental disorders. Unfortunately, these disorders can lead to joint pain, stiffness and decreased mobility.

They tend to leave dogs with an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis.

Examples of developmental disorders in dogs include:

Making the Diagnosis of Canine Arthritis

In order to make a definitive diagnosis of canine arthritis, the veterinarian may use a combination of methods including the following:

Physical Examination

During a physical exam, the veterinarian may evaluate your dog’s gait (how the dog walks), range of motion, and joint mobility.

The veterinarian may have the dog walk up and down the stairs for further evaluation.

Dogs with arthritis may limp or favor a limb. They may show stiffness or reluctance to move or show a change in posture such as an arched back.

The veterinarian will conduct a thorough orthopedic examination by checking the forelimbs and pelvic limbs for signs of muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass) or increased fluid in the joint space.

Medical History

The medical history may involve a discussion about any prior injuries, surgery, or medications your dog may be taking.


X-rays (radiographs) are commonly used to diagnose arthritis in dogs. They can also be used to rule out other causes of joint pain.

Joint Fluid Analysis

Joint fluid analysis involves inserting a needle into the joint and collecting a sample of synovial fluid. This sample can help determine if the dog’s joint pain is due to an infection or immune-mediated disease.


In some cases, arthroscopy may be used to view inside the joints. This minimally invasive technique is performed using a rigid endoscope that is then inserted into the joint through a small incision.

Blood Tests

The main reason for blood tests in this situation is to rule out other causes of joint pain.

CT Scan or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

These imaging techniques provide more detailed images of the joint structure.

Easing the pain of arthritis in dogs.

What to Give Dogs With Arthritis: Managing Pain

​Managing painful arthritis in dogs is a job that both pet parents and veterinarians can address. The best way to manage arthritis is with a multimodal approach.

The best results can be achieved with a combination of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, weight management, and physical therapy.

​Pain medications aren’t the only option for ailing dogs.

In fact, there are a number of options that can be started at the first signs of arthritis in dogs, and there are many things pet owners can do at home to make it easier for their dog to get around.

The treatment plan chosen will depend on:

  • The severity of the arthritis.
  • The age of the dog.
  • Any underlying health conditions.
  • The dog’s size and breed.
  • The dog’s lifestyle and activity level.
  • The owner’s ability to provide treatment.
  • The cost of treatment.

Help Your Dog Maintain a Healthy Weight

Weight management is important for all dogs at any age. However, it becomes even more important for dogs in their golden years. Tips to help your senior dog maintain a healthy weight include:

  • Feed a high-quality diet.
  • Monitor portion sizes.
  • Provide regular, gentle exercise.
  • Consider low-impact exercises like gentle walks or swimming.
  • Avoid table scraps.
  • Use puzzle feeders to help slow your dog’s eating.

Weight loss can help ease the burden on the dog’s joints.

Physical Rehabilitation

Physical rehabilitation can help manage arthritis in dogs by improving mobility, reducing pain, and slowing the progression of the disease.

Therapeutic modalities like cold laser therapy, ultrasound, and electrostimulation may help reduce pain. In addition, exercises that focus on increasing range of motion and building strength are important.

Other types of physical therapy may include:

  • Hydrotherapy (underwater treadmills)
  • Joint mobilization
  • Massage therapy
  • Educating pet owners
  • Weight management

Maintain Regular Exercise in Your Dog’s Golden Years

Maintaining regular exercise in senior dogs can help their mobility in many ways. Senior dogs may not be able to jump and run as much as they did when they were younger, but it’s still important for them to move.

Regular exercise helps maintain muscle mass in senior dogs. This can help support their joints and reduce the risk of injury.

Gentle exercise can help improve joint health by promoting circulation to the joints. It can also help reduce stiffness and promote flexibility.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are commonly used for pain management in dogs with arthritis. NSAIDS can help a dog with arthritis in the following ways:

  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve mobility
  • Improve appetite

The downside of anti-inflammatory medications is their side-effects, including gastrointestinal upset, liver and kidney damage, and bleeding disorders.

Commonly used NSAIDs for dogs with arthritis include:

  • Carprofen (brand name: Rimadyl)
  • Meloxicam (brand name: Metacam)
  • Firocoxib (brand name: Previcox)
  • Deracoxib (brand name: Deramaxx)

Unfortunately, there can be serious risks to providing NSAIDS long-term. These include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems, including ulcers and irritation of the GI tract (vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain)
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Increase the risk of bleeding disorders
  • Potential drug interactions

Other Prescription Medications

In addition to NSAIDS, there are other prescription medications that may be used to treat arthritis in dogs. These include disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADS) designed to slow the progression of osteoarthritis.

They can help protect joint cartilage and reduce inflammation in the joint. Currently, there are only a few DMOADS available for dogs. These include the following:

  • Adequan
  • Cartrophen Vet (pentosan polysulfate sodium)
  • Nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate

​Healthy Diet

Although there is no known cure for arthritis, certain diets may help with symptoms.

According to, a good anti-inflammatory diet for dogs consists of high-quality proteins, good fats, and vegetables.

This type of high-fiber diet provides the dog with healthy nutrients while keeping sugar and carbohydrates low.

Feeding your dog a healthy diet while avoiding table scraps and certain treats can help keep your dog’s weight down. The more body weight your dog has, the harder it’s going to be on his or her joints.

In addition, your veterinarian may be able to recommend a good prescription diet for your dog.

The Use of CBD Oil in Dogs with Arthritis

There is limited scientific research available on the use of CBD oil in dogs with arthritis. Many pet owners who have tried claim that it has helped with their dogs pain, however.

Although CBD oil is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, it’s always best to talk to a licensed veterinarian before relying on CBD oil for your dog.

The Benefits of Fish Oil

Fish oil may help dogs with osteoarthritis by reducing inflammation in the joints. Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.

If you’re shopping for omega-3 fatty acids for your dog, look for products made from oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines.

These contain the two most important fatty acids for dogs: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Massage Therapy for Dogs

Massage therapy could be a good complementary therapy for dogs with arthritis.

It may help reduce muscle tension and stiffness, improve circulation, and promote relaxation. In dogs, massage therapy can help to increase joint flexibility and range of motion.

It’s important to learn the best application of massage therapy for your dog. Not all dogs will tolerate massage therapy. Be sure to use a light touch and watch your dog’s body language for cues that it’s time to stop.

READ: Your Guide to Dog Oil for Massage

Signs of discomfort or stress include:

  • Restlessness
  • Avoidance
  • Vocalizations
  • Becomes stiff or tense
  • Licking or biting at the area you are trying to massage

Your best option may be to seek out the services of an animal massage therapist or physiotherapist. Ask your veterinarian for resources.

Watch the following video by Dr. Marc Smith on dog massage:

Easy DIY Dog Arthritis Massage at Home - Marc Smith DVM


Arthritis in dogs is a common condition that can cause pain and discomfort. The best way to ease the pain of arthritis in dogs is through multiple means.

Work with the veterinarian to come up with a management plan that works best for your dog. Strategies may include appropriate exercise, weight management, joint supplements, medication, and physiotherapy or massage.

Pain management is vital for your dog’s quality of life. I hope the information in this post was able to help. The information in this post is not designed to take the place of medical veterinary advice.

Works Cited

Staff, AKC. “Osteoarthritis in Dogs — Signs and Treatment – American Kennel Club.” American Kennel Club, Accessed 1 May 2023.

“Synovium and Synovial Fluid.” Physiopedia, Accessed 1 May 2023.

RVT, CVPM, Sandy Walsh. “Multimodal Pain Management for Canine Osteoarthritis.” Today’s Veterinary Practice, 16 Aug. 2021,

Vet, Stem Cell. “Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Dogs: Boost Your Pet’s Health.” Stem Cell Vet UK, 2 May 2016,

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