How to care for a senior dog with arthritis

Canine arthritis is the most common cause of joint pain in senior dogs. Having a pup in pain, watching him struggle to get to his feet, and seeing him slowly move around is heartbreaking.

Chronic pain has a severe impact on a dog’s overall well-being, as well as his emotional state. 

I know how hard it is. I know you love your pup,  and I know you want to help. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post! 🤗

Believe me, with a proper treatment plan, your dog can still enjoy his golden years of life to the fullest. 

Managing arthritis and chronic pain is a team effort,  so here’s how you and your vet can help your dog. 

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

senior dog picture

Causes of canine arthritis

Arthritis, or Osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease that leads to gradual loss of function in one or more joints, causing inflammation, lameness, and pain. It’s the most common orthopedic condition that has a profound impact on the well-being and quality of life of senior dogs. 

Although older dogs are affected the most, according to some studies already dogs over 1 year old can show signs of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis can be primary, where there is no known cause for why it happened, and secondary. Secondary arthritis is more common and can be caused for example by misalignments, dysplasia, injuries, patella luxation, or nutritional deficiencies. 

Signs of arthritis in older dogs

Symptoms and signs of arthritis in dogs can vary, but there are several common indicators to watch out for. 

→ Stiffness

Stiffness is one of the primary symptoms of arthritis in dogs, especially after periods of rest or inactivity. 

You may notice your dog having difficulty getting up or showing reluctance to engage in physical activities he once enjoyed. 

→ Lameness

Arthritic dogs often exhibit lameness or limping, as they try to put less weight on the painful joint. They may also display a decreased range of motion, or struggle to move certain joints as freely as before. 

→ Refusal to go up and down the stairs

Many arthritis patients have problems going up or down the stairs. So if you have an older dog that suddenly refuses to go up the stairs, he is not lazy, he is probably in pain 😕

→ Difficulty getting up or lying down

Older dogs have often problems getting up or lying down. This might be due to painful joints.

→ Swelling around the joint

Swelling, heat, and tenderness around the joints are additional signs to look for. They are all side effects of joint inflammation. 

The affected joint can be also painful to touch, so be careful when you examine your pup. He might get startled by the sudden pain and bite in self-defense. 

→ Changes in behavior

Dogs with arthritis may experience behavioral changes such as irritability, restlessness, or increased aggression due to the discomfort and pain they’re feeling.

And it’s understandable. If I were constantly in pain I would be cranky too… 🤷‍♀️

It’s essential to be observant, especially when you have an older dog. Consult any changes you observe with your vet. Early arthritis detection and pain management can greatly improve your pup’s quality of life.

Infographics - Signs of arthritis in senior dog

Risk factors for developing arthritis in dogs

There are several risk factors associated with the development of arthritis in dogs. Some of them are manageable, and some, sadly are not. 

→ Age:

Age is a risk factor for both primary as well as secondary arthritis in dogs. Nearly 20% of elderly dogs show orthopedic disorders, with 50% being more than 8 years old. 

→ Breed predisposition:

While there is a breed predisposition, with Labradors and German Shepherds being the most susceptible, dogs of all breeds can develop arthritis at some point. 

These breeds often suffer from elbow or hip dysplasia, which can progress into osteoarthritis.

Smaller breeds with known risks of other orthopedic conditions are also prone to secondary arthritis. If you have a Dachshund or a French bulldog with ivdd, there is a high chance he will also have painful joints as he grows old. 

Large and giant dogs have a much higher risk of developing arthritis in one or more joints. 

Genetic factors, breed predispositions and underlying health conditions can contribute to the development of arthritis in dogs. 

→ Injuries and surgery:

Previous injuries or trauma to the joints, such as fractures or ligament tears, can also increase the chances of arthritis development. 

Joint surgery is also a predisposing factor that can cause arthritis in the future. 

→ Obesity:

Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, including diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and arthritis. 

The excess weight puts additional strain on the joints, leading to faster degeneration and subsequent inflammation. 

Being aware of these risk factors can help you take proactive measures to prevent or manage arthritis in your furry companion.

risk factors for arthritis in older dogs

How is arthritis in older dogs diagnosed?

Diagnosing arthritis in dogs typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation, physical examination, and further diagnostic tests.

X-rays are commonly used to visualize the joints and identify any abnormalities or signs of degeneration.

In some cases, additional imaging techniques like ultrasound or MRI may be recommended for a more detailed evaluation. 

Joint fluid analysis can also provide valuable information by examining the synovial fluid for signs of inflammation or joint damage.

Blood tests are often necessary to assess the overall health of an older dog and rule out other underlying health conditions. 

Your vet will use the combined findings of these diagnostic tools to confirm the diagnosis, determine its severity, and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to the specific needs of the dog.

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Therapy of arthritis in senior dogs

The standard treatment can be medical or surgical. Your veterinarian will prescribe appropriate medication based on your dog’s signs, age, and overall health.

Pain management plays a crucial role in improving the quality of life for senior dogs with arthritis. Various medications and treatment options are available to help alleviate pain and discomfort. 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and improve joint mobility. However, long-term may result in potential side effects.  

It’s important to use NSAIDs specifically formulated for dogs, as human medications can be toxic to them. So please don’t give your dog human painkillers!

Other pain-relieving medications, such as opioids or tramadol, may be prescribed for more severe cases or when NSAIDs alone are insufficient.  

Your vet will create an individual multi-level treatment plan for your dog. It usually consists of pain and anti-inflammatory medication, an exercise and physical therapy plan, adapted nutrition, and appropriate supplements. 

Many vets also offer holistic treatments, such as acupuncture or laser therapy.

The aim of the treatment is to improve the dog’s quality of life. 

You have to work closely with your veterinarian to develop a tailored pain management plan that addresses the specific needs of the dog, taking into account their overall health, severity of arthritis, and response to different treatment modalities. 

Regular monitoring and open communication with your vet are necessary to ensure the most effective pain management approach for your senior pup. 

In other words: it’s teamwork, people! 😊

older dog, text Your vet will develop an individually tailored treatment plan for your dog

How to care for an older dog with arthritis

Now we’ve come to the important part. So how can you help your pup? 

1. Manage your dog’s obesity

Many senior dogs are overweight. They are not as active as young pups and have different nutritional needs. 

If your dog is obese and has arthritis, the first thing you need to do is to help him lose weight.

Obesity is greatly contributing to his discomfort. Losing weight will have an immediate effect on his pain level. 

However, I would strongly recommend switching to a proper weight management plan. Simply reducing the amount of food usually is not good for your senior pup.

Talk to your veterinarian about how to safely lose weight without putting your dog’s health at risk.

Once your dog reaches his optimal weight, monitor his body condition score.  

2. Feed your pup a high-quality diet for senior dogs

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for every dog, be it a puppy or a geriatric patient. 

Providing your senior dog with the right nutrients can help reduce inflammation, support joint health, and maintain optimal weight. 

You can buy high-quality dog food specifically formulated for senior dogs or those with joint issues. Look for options that contain high-quality, easily digestible proteins to support muscle maintenance and repair. 

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet can help reduce inflammation and improve joint function. 

Additionally, some brands add joint-supportive supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin to their kibbles to provide further benefits for joint health. 

Talk to your vet about a tailored nutritional plan that addresses the specific needs of a senior dog with arthritis.

Lastly, it’s crucial to provide access to fresh water at all times. Put the water bowl next to your dog’s resting place. You can also elevate the bowl for better access. 

3. Consider adding joint supplements to your dog’s diet

Several nutriceuticals have been scientifically proven to be beneficial for dogs suffering from arthritis. 

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, and Omega-6 fatty acids: decrease inflammation throughout the body, including the joints
  • Green-lipped mussel: reduce inflammation in osteoarthritic dogs
  • Glucosamine: contributes to cartilage formation and repair, slows cartilage deterioration, and reduces inflammation
  • Chondroitin sulfate: improves the elastic properties of cartilage and reduces painful swelling in joints
  • Cannabinol
  • A mixture of curcuminoids extract, hydrolyzed collagen, and green tea

There are several others currently being studied that show promise in supporting joint health a helping relieve joint pain.

Talk to your vet about which supplements are best for your dog.


Phytotherapy, also known as herbal medicine or botanical therapy, offers a natural approach to managing canine arthritis. 

Various herbs and plant-based remedies have shown the potential in reducing inflammation, relieving pain, and supporting joint health in dogs. 

Some commonly used herbs for canine arthritis include turmeric, ginger, boswellia, and yucca

While these herbs might help, talk to your vet before using them. Some are surprisingly strong and can harm your pup. 

Herbal medicine might be generally more gentle, but many pharmacologically active plants have serious side effects. It’s also very easy to overdose your dog.

Therefore it’s important to consult with a veterinarian experienced in phytotherapy to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure safety and efficacy.

Phytotherapy can complement traditional treatments and provide a holistic approach to managing canine arthritis.

It’s important to note that while supplements and herbs can be beneficial, their effectiveness can vary.  

On top of that, it takes more time to see the desired effect. It usually takes around 8 weeks, as opposed to standard pain medication where the effect is almost immediate in comparison. 

❗️ Important note: Before you buy any kind of supplement, it’s crucial to consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure compatibility with any existing medications!❗️

Always talk to your vet before you give your dog any kind of treatment. 

The best way is to use supplements or herbal remedies as a part of the arthritis treatment. 

We usually recommended starting with pain medication for immediate pain relief. Your dog doesn’t have to suffer when we have meds that can help him. 

We also start with relevant joint supplements. After several weeks we evaluate the condition of the dog.

Gradually, we lower the doses of the pain medication to see if the supplements are working. If they do have the desired effect, the dog usually doesn’t need such high doses of non-inflammatory drugs as at the beginning of the treatment. 

However, arthritis dogs need to be monitored and evaluated often to adjust their therapy plans and medications. 

4. Create a comfortable living environment

Creating a comfortable living environment will help alleviate pain, enhance mobility, and improve the overall well-being of your senior pup. 

One essential aspect is providing a warm and cozy sleeping area. Choose a bed that offers ample support and cushioning, preferably an orthopedic bed designed to relieve pressure on joints. Orthopedic beds are easily accessible, allowing the dog to enter and exit without having to jump or climb. 

Additionally, consider placing the bed away from drafty areas to prevent exacerbating stiffness.

Easy access to food and water is equally important. Elevate the bowls to a height that minimizes strain on the neck and shoulders, making it easier for the dog to eat and drink comfortably. You can use non-slip bowls or mats to prevent sliding during meal times.

Modifying your home to minimize joint stress is another important step. You can install ramps or gentle inclines to help the dog navigate stairs or elevated surfaces. 

Most dogs have problems getting up or lying down and walking on smooth surfaces. Putting a carpet on your floor will help.

Remove obstacles and clutter from pathways to prevent tripping hazards.

If possible, create a designated area on the ground floor for the dog’s activities, reducing the need for climbing stairs frequently.

Consider using memory foam or gel-filled pads on hard surfaces where the dog frequently rests.

Orthopedic dog pillows or heated blankets can also provide additional comfort and warmth, easing joint stiffness.

Lastly, try to maintain a stress-free environment. Minimize loud noises and sudden movements that may startle your pup. 

Provide a peaceful space where he can relax without disruptions. This is especially important if you have more dogs at home. Your senior pup needs his rest and space 🥰

Positive reinforcement, gentle massages, and ample affection can help alleviate anxiety and promote a sense of security.

5. Regular gentle exercise and physical activity

First of all,  it’s important to consider the dog’s limitations and consult every type of exercise with your vet.

You can easily harm or overwhelm your senior pup, so please be careful. 

That being said, regular (gentle) exercise has many proven benefits for senior dogs.

It can help manage weight, maintain muscle strength, improve joint mobility, and enhance overall well-being. It has also a profound impact on your pup’s mental health and cognitive functions. 

Opt for low-impact activities that minimize stress on the joints, such as gentle walks, swimming, or hydrotherapy. 

Shorter, more frequent exercise sessions are generally better than prolonged periods of intense activity. Warm-up exercises, like gentle stretching or light massage, can help loosen the joints and prepare your dog for physical activity. 

Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzle toys or interactive games, can also keep your pup’s mind active. 

It’s essential to monitor your dog closely during exercise and pay attention to any signs of discomfort or fatigue. If the dog appears to be in pain or exhibits difficulty moving, stop immediately and consult the exercise with your vet.

The best thing you can do is to create an exercise plan together with your vet. This way you can be certain your dog has an appropriate exercise routine that supports his specific needs.

6. Physical therapy and rehabilitation

Physical therapy has many benefits, especially for older dogs. It helps with pain management, improves joint function, and enhances overall mobility. 

Under the guidance of a professional therapist or veterinarian, physical therapy sessions can involve a range of techniques tailored to your dog’s specific needs. 

Gentle range of motion exercises helps maintain joint flexibility. Stretching exercises improve muscle strength and length. Targeted massage alleviates muscle tension and promotes circulation. 

Hydrotherapy, where the dog exercises in a warm water pool, can provide buoyancy and reduce pressure on the joints, facilitating pain-free movement. 

Assistive devices like balance balls, wobble boards, or balance discs can help improve stability and proprioception. 

Rehabilitation programs may also incorporate modalities such as laser therapy, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation to reduce inflammation, promote tissue healing, and alleviate pain. Many also offer holistic treatments such as acupuncture.  

Physical therapy and rehabilitation sessions are usually conducted in a controlled environment, with gradual progression and close monitoring of the dog’s response. This approach aims to optimize the dog’s physical abilities, minimize pain, and enhance the overall quality of life. 

Regular physical therapy sessions combined with at-home exercises recommended by the therapist can provide long-term benefits for senior dogs with arthritis. 

7. Consider using assistive devices and mobility aids

Assistive devices and mobility aids can greatly enhance the mobility and independence of senior dogs with arthritis, allowing them to navigate their surroundings more comfortably. 

One commonly used aid is a ramp or gentle incline that provides an alternative to stairs, reducing the strain on arthritic joints when moving between different levels. 

These ramps can be used for accessing cars, getting onto furniture, or entering and exiting the house. 

Another valuable device is a harness or sling that provides support to the dog’s hind end, helping to lift and stabilize them during walks or when standing up.

 Orthopedic braces or wraps can provide additional support and stability to specific joints, such as the elbows or knees, relieving pain and reducing stress. 

I’ve already mentioned using raised feeding stations to minimize strain on the neck and shoulders while eating. 

Slip-resistant booties or socks can improve traction on smooth surfaces, preventing slips and falls. 

There are many options on the market. If you are not sure which one should you buy, talk to your vet or a professional in mobility aids. 

8. Provide emotional support

Dogs experiencing chronic pain and reduced mobility may feel frustrated, anxious, or even depressed. Providing a supportive and loving environment is essential to promote their emotional well-being. 

Spending quality time with your pup, engaging in activities he enjoys, and offering gentle affection can help alleviate his stress and anxiety. 

Maintaining a consistent daily routine can provide a sense of security and stability. 

Engaging in interactive play and mental stimulation activities, such as puzzle toys or gentle training exercises, can keep their minds sharp and prevent boredom.

Regular socialization with other friendly dogs or humans can provide positive interactions and prevent isolation.

To be blunt, your old pup is in pain. He needs to feel loved, secure and engaged. Treasure the time you still have together and make the most of it under the circumstances.

senior dog quote

Monitoring dogs with arthritis

Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring are essential for any senior dog. But dogs with arthritis really need them to ensure their condition is managed effectively. 

They allow for a comprehensive evaluation of the dog’s arthritis progression, pain levels, and response to treatment. 

During these visits, the veterinarian can assess joint mobility, examine for any signs of inflammation or discomfort, and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. 

Regular check-ups are also a great opportunity to discuss your concerns or any changes you observed. 

Talk to your vet! Ask questions, tell stories, let him know if something changed. 

Additionally, regular check-ups enable early detection and management of any other age-related health issues that may impact your dog’s well-being. 

By embracing these strategies and working together with your veterinarian, you can make a significant difference in your pup’s life. gfgfdv

I hope you have many more years together! 🥰

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Today you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 

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