Canine osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative disease that affects one or more joints in the body. Dogs with osteoarthritis (sometimes simply called arthritis) tend to be painful and stiff. Their mobility and overall quality of life may suffer.
Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are various ways to treat the disease. Medications, supplements and other treatments can make a big difference in your dog's quality of life. However, some of the best ways to keep your arthritic dog comfortable involve simple changes you can make to you and your dog's daily life and surroundings.
Manage Your Dog's Weight
Weight loss and weight management are among the most important factors in managing arthritis in dogs. Talk to your vet about your dog's weight. Discuss your dog's dietary and exercise needs and make changes as necessary.
Maintain an Active Lifestyle
It is important to keep those arthritic joints moving to prevent stiffness and decrease pain. Your arthritic dog may have less enthusiasm about walks, as well as decreased stamina. However, exercise is still essential. Instead of one long daily walk, try taking multiple short, slow walks a day. As your dog tolerates it, try short and steady walks up and down steep hills. This will help rebuild muscle loss in the limbs, increasing overall strength and stability.
Get a Good Dog Bed
Your dog's joints are sore, so he will probably have trouble getting comfortable in a flat or lumpy dog bed. Fortunately, there are many great orthopedic dog beds on the market today. These beds are more expensive, but they are typically worth the price. Look for orthopedic foam that is at least 4 inches thick and has an area large enough for your dog to stretch out. Avoid elevated beds and nesting type beds that will be difficult for your dog to get in or out of. In colder months, consider a heated bed, which will provide even greater comfort for sore joints. When researching dog beds, be sure to read the reviews from other consumers before you buy.
Cover Floors for Walkability
Arthritic dogs may lose muscle mass and become weak, making it difficult to gain traction on hardwood, laminate, marble or other slick floors. Placing bath mats, rubber runners, foam mats or even yoga mats in the areas where your dog walks can give him the footing he needs to get around safely and comfortably. Lay down carpet or rubber treads on stairs. For all-day, all-surface traction, you might also try placing special socks, booties or shoes on your dog's feet that have grippy bottoms. Unfortunately, many dogs will not tolerate something on their feet and will have even more trouble walking in them.
Use Ramps Where Needed
If you have a big dog that cannot be easily lifted, consider getting ramps for areas your dog used to jump up to. This includes cars, couches, porches, decks, and similar heights. Dog ramps can be purchased through most pet retailers, so shop around for the ones that suit your dog best. A good dog ramp has a surface that provides traction, such as rubber or a sandpaper-type grit. If possible, a ramp for your staircase would be wonderful. However, this is not practical for many homes, so stair treads may be best.
Keep Your Dog's Nails Short
Again, because arthritic dogs may have trouble gaining traction, long nails will make it even harder for your dog to walk. Be sure to regularly trim your dog's nails or grind them down with a file or rotary tool. Have your vet or groomer do it if you are unable.
Assist Your Dog
As arthritis progresses, your dog may need some extra support when walking or climbing stairs. Try using a rolled up a sheet, towel or blanket as a sling under the belly or chest. These homemade slings are great for short periods but are not ideal for long-term use. They can eventually cause friction on your dog's skin as well as fatigue on your hands.
For dogs that need regular assistance, there are products made expressly for this purpose. Walkabout Harnesses is one of several companies that makes these types of products. In the most severe of cases, when a dog has completely lost the use of front or hind limbs, some dog owners opt to have a special cart built. Check out Eddie's Wheels or K9 Carts for more information.
Be Patient and Realistic
Your arthritic dog needs all the patience, support and TLC you can offer. With your help, your dog can still remain happy and comfortable for a long time in the face of arthritis.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. Though treatment can slow the progression of the disease, it may eventually become so severe that your dog's pain cannot be controlled and he will be too immobile to benefit from assistance.
Sadly, when other options have been exhausted, the time may come to consider humane euthanasia. As difficult as this decision is, rest assured you will be doing the right thing if it is out of love for your beloved companion.