Pet Information Pages

Helping your dog with osteoarthritis

By Mel Bruder 

What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis, commonly referred to as OA, is a degenerative condition of the joint surfaces through ‘wear and tear’. Healthy bone ends are covered in a layer of cartilage, which cushions them and stops them rubbing together.
In arthritis this cartilage becomes worn away to a greater or lesser extent. The bone ends then abrade against each other leading to secondary inflammation and pain..

How will this affect my dog?
This will depend on which joints are affected as well as factors such as weight, breed and other medical conditions.
Your dog may show signs such as reluctance to move, stiffness on getting out of their bed, slowing up on their usual walk, swelling of a joint and pain.
It is important that the diagnosis of osteoarthritis, is made by your vet, as they need to exclude other causes as well as prescribe the appropriate treatment.

How can I help my dog?
There is a lot that you can do to help your dog. This involves reducing the pain and inflammation of the affected joints, strengthening the muscles around the joints to reduce the stress on them, as well as helping to manage the activity that your dog undertakes thus minimizing further wear and tear.

These are some of the things that you can do to help your dog;

Maintain your dog at their ideal weight. Increased weight will significantly affect the loading to your dog’s damaged joints. Your vet or vet nurse can advise you on how to achieve this.
Give your dog their medication regularly, as prescribed.
Jumping and twisting movements, as well as repetitive throwing and chasing of balls, causes severe strain on arthritic joints. If you feel that it seriously compromises your dog’s quality of life to stop these activities see if you can modify, reduce or slow them down.
Lead walking, preferably on a harness is excellent for strengthening your dog’s muscles. Shorter, regular walks are better for your dog than longer walks. If your dog is stiffer the next day it was too long. Respect pain.
Use a ramp to prevent your dog jumping in or out of the car
Exercise on grass is better than on hard surfaces.
Do not allow your dog to pull on the lead. If necessary use a well fitted halter device.
Use a hot water bottle for 10 minutes at a time on sore muscles. You can use a cold pack on a swollen joint, but for further advice speak to you vet or physiotherapist.
If you walk your dog off the lead consider ‘warming up ‘ their muscles first by walking on the lead for the first 10 minutes of the walk.
Keep your dog warm in cold weather with a well fitting coat.
Make sure that your dog has a basket /bed that he can get into easily. It should have sufficient bedding and be positioned out of drafts
Floor surfaces. Dogs with sore joints will find slippery floor surfaces such as laminate flooring difficult. They are also more vulnerable to injuring themselves by slipping. If possible ensure that floors are covered by carpets or matting. Dirt trapper mats can be purchased on e-bay in many different sizes and shapes and are excellent for keeping floors clean as well as providing carpeted corridors.
Physiotherapy. Massage, exercises, electrotherapy and hydrotherapy may all helpful in managing a dog with arthritis. Your vet can refer you to a qualified physiotherapist.

If you require further advice on any of the areas above please discuss this with your vet or physiotherapist

Safe and effective use of hot and cold packs

Heat and cold can be effective treatments for arthritis and some injuries. Both can be used to reduce pain but as a general rule heat is used on stiff, sore muscles and cold is used on acute injuries or where swelling is present over a joint. Please seek the advice of your vet or physiotherapist before treating your dog.

The most effective pads are gel filled and can be purchased relatively cheaply from a chemist. Please follow the manufacturers instructions when preparing. Heat can be applied using a hot water bottle filled with warm but not boiling water. Cold can be applied using a small bag of frozen peas (marked to prevent them being consumed at a later date!)
It is very important that the pack is covered in a towel or other cover and is NOT applied directly to the dog’s skin.

Do not apply to broken or infected skin
Do not apply if your dog has problems with their circulation

To apply a hot or cold pack
Wait until your dog is relaxed and lying down but is awake.
Wrap the prepared pack in a cover and check that the temperature feels comfortable to touch
Introduce the pack gently over the area to be treated, molding it with your hand.
Stay with your dog holding the pack in place for 10-15 minutes and no longer.
Do not force your dog to accept the treatment
Remove the pack and check the skin