Natural Treatments for Osteoarthritis in Dogs

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is a common disease that causes joint stiffness and pain. Dogs suffering from osteoarthritis will experience intermittent lameness and difficulty with exercise. The most effective course of treatments for osteoarthritis is a combination therapy of analgesics, to reduce pain, and natural treatments that include:

  • Healthy diet and exercise
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Heat therapy
  • Comfortable environment
  • Chondroprotectants
  • Acupuncture

Osteoarthritis gets progressively worse over time. Without treatment the dog can become severely debilitated. There is no cure for the condition. Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and slowing the degradation of joints.

Maintaining Healthy Weight with Diet and Exercise

Maintaining a healthy weight is the first step to alleviating joint pain. Extra weight means additional strain on the joints during movement. If a dog is overweight, a diet and exercise will be necessary to reduce stress on the joints.

Regular exercise can maintain joint flexibility and build or preserve muscle mass. Short walks of approximately 20 minutes should be done several times a day. The dog should be kept on a leash and restricted from activities such as jumping or standing on the hind legs. If a dog appears more uncomfortable and stiff after exercise, the regimen should be changed to an appropriate comfort level. The dog should not engage in activities that cause exertion or bouts of lameness. Physical therapy exercises, such as range of motion exercises, can also improve flexibility and strength.

Hydrotherapy for Dogs with Osteoarthritis

Some dogs may have difficulty even with short periods of exercise. Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, can provide beneficial exercise without putting stress on arthritic joints. The buoyancy of water prevents the weight of the dog from impacting the joints. The dog can then attain muscle strengthening and increased flexibility, without becoming sore or experiencing joint fatigue. Hydrotherapy can be done at canine rehabilitation centers or at home with:

  • Underwater treadmills
  • Physical therapy pools
  • Outdoors (lakes or ponds)
  • Sink or bathtub (for smaller breeds)

Heat Therapy For Osteoarthritis Relief

Moderate heat applied directly to the joints can increase circulation, enhance tissue healing and flexibility, and reduce stiffness. The heat should be low to moderate but not hot to the touch. Heat therapy can be easily done at home using:

  • Heat packs
  • Hot water bottles
  • Microwavable heat disks
  • Warm towels

A Safe and Comfortable Environment

Dampness and cold can aggravate the symptoms of osteoarthritis. A warm and soft place to sleep can prevent the dog from experiencing joint stiffness after periods of inactivity. Keeping the dog warm outdoors, with protective clothing, can also provide relief. Slippery surfaces indoors put an arthritic dog at risk for injury. Place non-slip rugs or mats in areas the dog uses to prevent falls or sprains. Ramps can assist a dog with osteoarthritis with stairs or jumps.

Chondroprotectants as Joint Care Supplements

A veterinarian may recommend chondroprotectants for a dog with osteoarthritis. Chondroprotectants are supplements that may help to prevent further degradation of joint cartilage. Some chondroprotectants are nutraceuticals and considered to be between a nutrient and a drug. Joint care nutraceuticals contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These are natural joint compounds that are deficient in dogs with osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture for Treatment of Osteoarthritis

Acupuncture is the insertion of needles along nerve points under the skin. Acupuncture may be recommended for dogs with osteoarthritis to provide temporary pain relief. When used in conjunction with other therapies, acupuncture may provide short term improvement in a dog's mobility.