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Your Happy Pet: Comfort for arthritic dogs

Original Publication Date: September 9, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Arthritis is a disease sometimes brought on by wear and tear on a joint or simply by advancing age.

A recent study surprisingly revealed that 20 percent of dogs have arthritis.

We expect our pets to slow down a bit as they age, but we need to be on the lookout for tell-tale signs indicating that the slowdown is due to aches associated with arthritis. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is time to take your friend to the veterinarian for a checkup. A pet needs a physical exam if he walks stiffly, limps, has difficulty getting up, is hesitant to jump, run or climb stairs, is tired, chews and licks at painful joints, has stiff or swollen joints, shows pain when touched in certain areas, or suffers loss of flexibility.

If your veterinarian diagnoses arthritis, he can prescribe medications to ease the pain. There are also some natural supplements that he may recommend. Glucosamine and chondroitin are old standbys when treating arthritis and a new one called Traumeel is gaining favor. Ask your veterinarian for his recommendations.

Medication and supplements can go a long way to soothe the pain of arthritis, but don't neglect the things you can do to make your pet more comfortable. A comfy soft bed helps support bones and joints. Getting up and down and even walking across the floor can be difficult for an arthritic dog so adding area rugs creates a slip-free floor to provide traction for your pup.

A ramp is very helpful for a pet that has difficulty climbing steps or getting in and out of the car.

Moderate exercise is beneficial for most arthritic dogs. Muscles support the joints. Moderate exercise keeps the muscles fit and maintains flexibility. When exercising, use a harness instead of collar. A harness can supply support and will not injure the neck and spine if the pet pulls on the lead.

It is also wise to have your pet wear a sweater or jacket when out in the cold and rain gear during inclement weather. Always check with your vet before beginning an exercise program.

Place food and water bowls on a crate or use elevated food bowls to reduce strain on your dog's neck and spine as he eats. Check your pet's weight. Carrying extra pounds is hard on arthritic joints so weight loss is an important goal if your pet is plump.

Massage is an excellent complementary therapy to treat arthritis. It increases circulation and warms and soothes joints and surrounding tissues. This relieves joint pain and maintains range of motion to prevent stiffness.

Arthritis is an unfortunate challenge that many of our pets face as they age. We can offer medical help, physical assistance and a lot of love to make life more comfortable for our arthritic furry friends.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at