You can find many more of our articles related to arthritis, chronic pain and mobility issues in older dogs here.
The first perceptible sign of aging that most owners notice with their dog is arthritis. This can begin as early as 5 or 6 years of age in giant breeds, and occurs later in life in small and toy breeds.
You might notice slowness in getting up, stiffness, and even limping for the first few steps in the morning or after a long nap. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, but retain their natural instinct from their wilder days to hide weakness; therefore they will initially hide their pain. However, dogs communicate pain through body language, so it is important to learn this language, especially with senior dogs. Other signs of pain possibly related to arthritis are licking or chewing a joint, slowness to climb stairs or jump on furniture, changes in gait, changes in appetite and/or sleep, and excessive panting unrelated to hot weather. Dogs in severe pain can also exhibit irritability or even aggression. Any sudden change in your dog’s personality can mean she is in pain.
If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, it important to have your dog checked by a veterinarian, especially if these symptoms appear suddenly, or if the dog is younger than average, to rule out injury or skeletal issues.
If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, your veterinarian can recommend nutraceuticals such as fish oil, glucosamine, MSM, MicroLactin (Duralactin), and herbal supplements, or prescribe daily pain medication to keep her comfortable. You might also ask your veterinarian about Adequan injections, which have be shown to be helpful for canine joint health.There are also many other forms of therapy available to help dogs with arthritis and mobility problems. For information about alternative treatments that reduce pain and improve mobility such as acupuncture, massage, hydrotherapy, and cold laser therapy, see our post "Five Alternative Ways to Ease Pain in Dogs".
Some veterinarians also offer stem cell therapy as an option.
Regular exercise, appropriate to your dog's health, remains important for arthritic dogs. Daily walks maintain strength, and swimming can help stretch muscles and joints ("Physical Therapy for Senior Dogs").
A number of drugs are also available for pain relief and your vet can work with you to find the best combination for your dog. Pain relief is crucial with arthritis, and there’s no reason any dog should have to endure arthritis-related aches and pains. Pain relief is also essential to keep your old dog moving as he ages; arthritis can become even more pronounced if he avoids exercise altogether due to discomfort. Note: Never give your dog human pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), which can be toxic to dogs. For over-the-counter pain relievers, only buffered aspirin, given with food, can be used for dogs; check with your veterinarian for the correct dose for your dog’s weight.
Medications for dogs, including anti-inflammatory (NSAID) and pain relieving medications such as Rimadyl, Previcox, and Tramadol, can often be made more affordable by having your veterinarian’s prescription filled at a local pharmacy. Pharmacy prices are often at a significantly lower price than purchasing medications from your veterinarian’s office. Generic options typically cost between $4 and $10. Some of the pharmacies that offer pet medications or “crossover” medications are those at Costco, Sam's Club, CVS Caremark, CVS Pharmacy, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, Kroger, and Jewel-Osco. Many of these pharmacies also offer prescription savings plans for a small yearly fee. You can, for instance, add your pet as a family member to a Walgreens Prescription Savings Club membership. Also, American Automobile Association (AAA) members take note: AAA offers, at no extra cost, a prescription savings card for use when purchasing medications not covered by your medical insurance, which saves members an average of 24 percent on those medications purchases.
A well-padded dog bed is also a great help to keep an old dog off of cold, hard flooring that can exacerbate stiff, aching joints. High, soft, puffy beds can be difficult for an old dog to get in and out of, however, and may not provide the necessary support. Dog beds made with firmer orthopedic foam are a good choice for an older dog, and are available from several bed manufacturers. Raised cots are another good bedding option for older dogs.
The use of a warming pad can also provide your dog comfort.
Don’t just ignore aches and pains in your old friend. Pain and lack of mobility due to arthritis need not necessarily be an inevitable result of aging and can often be treated inexpensively.
The information presented by The Grey Muzzle Organization is for informational purposes only. Readers are urged to consult with a licensed veterinarian for issues relating to their pet's health or well-being or prior to implementing any treatment.
Some of the information in this article can be found in Grey Muzzle's free guide Caring for Your Senior Dog. Caring for Your Senior Dog was developed in collaboration with a leading veterinarian in geriatric medicine, a clinical nutritionist, and other experts in senior dog care. The entire guide is free to download.