By Dr Megan Kelly

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis in animals. Over time, the cartilage that cushions the joints starts wearing away until the subchondral bone gets exposed. Inflammatory mediators get released into the joint causing inflammation and pain.

Even with treatment, arthritis makes it difficult for your pet to deal with the physical challenges of their world such as steps, slippery floors, getting in and out of the car and cold drafts. A few changes and adaptations to their environment can really help to allow them to perform daily functions, move with confidence and improve their quality of life. Below is a simple guide and checklist for arthritic pets.

1. PAIN MANAGEMENT AND SUPPLEMENTS – Your vet will diagnose and prescribe anti-inflammatories depending on the severity of your pets’ arthritis. These products help decrease the swelling in the joints and may  also have some pain killing effects. They do however come with some side-effects (gastric ulceration, gastro-intestinal upsets, increased load  on the liver and kidneys).

I suggest alternative methods for pain management and these include:


Supplements and foods:

  • Joint supplements – chondroitin and glucosamine. Use products intended for pets only.
  • Omega 3 and 6 – has an anti-inflammatory effect – e. g. chia seeds
  • Some brands have specific foods for joints e.g. Hills j/d


2. EXERCISE AND HOW TO MAINTAIN STRENGTH – You may think that your  pet is too old or arthritic to go for walks but it is important to keep those limbs and joints moving. Not only does exercise maintain the muscles but it is also vital for cartilage nutrition. Short walks little and often  are the best. You should never walk your pet until they are collapsing and exhausted. If 5 mins is all they can do and its just down the road and  back again that is fine. The beach is out unless they are walking on the hard sand. Walking in thick sand is just too taxing and can result in soft tissue injuries.

  • Underwater treadmill: builds the muscles but spares the joints. The water is heated and this helps to increase the joint ability to   flex and extend (bend and straighten). It is important that your pet is partially weight-bearing. This is essential to build the correct muscles (extensor muscles) as these are the muscles which are important for joint stability.
  • Swimming: this is a great non-weight-bearing exercise with minimal load on the joints.
  • Therapeutic exercises: exercises specifically tailored to target your pet’s weaknesses. You can get these from a rehab vet or therapist.


3. JOINT AND BODY SUPPORT – For the joints: Your pet’s joints may be very weak and the ligaments that support them may not be doing the job they are supposed to. Your pet may benefit from some joint wraps or supports.

For the body:  Especially for larger breed dogs you may need an orthopaedic harness to help them get up from a lying position or to support them on walks or to get out and into the car.


1. Feeding: raise the feed or water bowl so your pet doesn’t have to bend down to eat or drink.

2. What kind of floors do you have? Tiles and wooden floors can be quite slippery and challenging for the weak arthritic pets. The do not have the strength to prevent their legs form splaying. There are a few things we can do to help them:

  • Sticky paws – rubber socks which give them traction.
  • Non- slip mats or rugs – especially under beds so when they get up they are standing on the rug, and where they eat.
  • Shave or clip the hair under their paws and between their pads

3. Dog beds: As inviting as big, cuddly, soft, beds look, they are not easy for your pet to get in and out of. They already have a lot of muscle tension, and movement like getting up and down is very difficult. We suggest a firm, but comfortable bed that the body does not sink into. The mattress must be thick enough to support and protect the joints adequetely. Make sure their bed is in a draft–free area.

4. Ramps and steps: Your pet may battle to get into and out of the car. We suggest investing in, or making, a ramp or some steps to aid them. Make sure the ramp is secure and not too steep. This goes the same for the beds and couches. Make sure the surface is not slippery and that they are secured to the floor. Steps like these are especially important for cases with disc disease and spondylosis.

5. Stairs: If it’s difficult for your pet to negotiate the steps, rather cordon the stairs off with a baby gate. If they sleep upstairs allow them to go up once a day. Going up and down and slipping and falling will just flare up their inflamed joints even more.

6. Keep your pet warm: hot water bottles and microwave heat packs can be used to heat cold, stiff muscles. Always be sure to place a towel down first and monitor the temperature so that you do not burn your pet.

7. Grooming: Your pet may be unable to groom themselves like they used to. Make sure – especially in long haired animals – that they don’t get matted. Brush them daily, being careful to go gently over their joints. These areas are generally poorly covered and may be uncomfortable and painful.

8. Collars: If your pet suffers from a stiff arthritic neck be sure not to weight them down with a big heavy collar. This will put extra tension on the neck muscles which are already under strain. We suggest a harness for walking in these cases for walking.

9. Weight: Make sure to keep their weight controlled. The heavier your pet is, the harder it is to do movements.

Osteoarthrtitis is not the only joint condition that dogs and cats suffer from. Below is a list of other joint condition that this checklist will also apply to:

Does your pet suffer from arthritis? Do you have any comments or questions on Dr. Megan Kelly’s article? SHARE with us!

Click here to find out more about Regal’s Joint Health Remedy.


1 Comment

  1. […] you advice about maintaining joints during winter but I also advise you to check out the article living with arthritis which gives great tips for dogs with […]

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