Arthritis in Dogs: Why A Holistic Approach Is The Best Approach

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / July 9, 2018

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re experiencing one of the worst feelings for a dog owner: knowing that your four-legged companion is in pain. As Fido gets older, unfortunately, general body pain increases, sometimes rapidly. Simple actions such as jumping on the couch or even lying down seem to be a chore. It’s heartbreaking watching your once lively pup start to slow down, but what can you do? We all know that aging is apart of life. However, arthritis in dogs doesn’t have to be.

What is Arthritis in Dogs?

Let’s start with the basics.

Arthritis is a general term for irregular changes in one’s joint. There are different Arthritis in Dogstypes of arthritis in dogs but osteoarthritis, also referred to as degenerative joint disease, is the most common affecting up to one in five dogs. While the condition is prevalent in our canine companions, it is often difficult to detect early on. Arthritis is a progressive disease, meaning that it typically develops over time (although certain events can lead to the condition developing at a more rapid rate). It is most commonly characterized by joint inflammation which ultimately leads to joint stiffness and a lack of mobility.

The Science Behind Arthritis in Dogs 

In order to fully understand your dog’s pain, it’s helpful to be familiar with how it all works and what exactly is going on.

Joints in dogs work the same way as they do in humans. A thin layer of cartilage covers the end of each bone in the dog’s body. The layer of cartilage acts as a shock absorber. It protects the bones from each other as they allow the dog to move freely. A liquid called synovial fluid surrounds the bone and cartilage and serves as a lubricant. The synovial fluid and the spongey cartilage all make your dog’s day to day activities pain-free.

When arthritis in dogs occurs, the synovial joint fluid and the spongey cartilage wear down, either from general aging and wear and tear on the joints or due to trauma. The break down causes inflammation thus leading to pain and stiffness when doing activities that were once easy.

Additionally, the more that bones rub against each other, the more painful it becomes for Fido. The joint pain will often cause your pup to act more lethargic and timid when moving. Eventually, pet owners may find that even going for a walk is an unpleasant event.

As you can see, arthritis in dogs can be an emotionally painful experience for pet owners. However, recognizing the early signs of the disease and knowing how to treat its symptoms can make a world of difference.

Types of Arthritis in Dogs 

There are five types of arthritis in dogs but two types are the most frequently diagnosed.

Degenerative Joint Disease 

  • Also known as osteoarthritis
  • Caused by friction between the bones due to the erosion of the cushioning cartilage
  • Purebred dogs are known to have an increased tendency for the disease
  • Bone spurs commonly develop resulting in even more joint pain

Inflammatory Joint Disease 

  • May be caused by an infection
  • It can affect one single joint or multiple joints
  • May be the result of an inherited immune system flaw

Signs of Arthritis in Dogs 

One of the most important ways the dog owners can prevent the aforementioned heartache is being able to detect arthritis early on and act appropriately.

Arthritic dogs (and dogs in general) are notorious for hiding pain. Therefore, when they do begin showing signs, the condition, whatever it may be, is typically quite progressed. For this reason, it is important for dog owners to be able to recognize the beginning signs of joint pain and in order to ensure that a plan of action gets underway.

Arthritis symptoms in dogs include:

  • General stiffness
  • Disinterest in walks and exercise that they once enjoyed
  • Reluctancy to stand
  • Moving slowly and cautiouslyArthritis in Dogs causes Resistance to Walks
  • Lethargy
  • Increased sleep
  • Abnormal movements
  • Decreased mobility
  • Timidness when getting on the bed/couch or into the car
  • Visible joint deformities
  • Swollen joints
  • Aggression when arthritic joints are touched
  • Personality changes (Irritability/Depression)
  • Intermittent lameness
  • Weight gain

Like many early symptoms, several signs of arthritis in dogs are non-specific. In other words, it may be a symptom of arthritis or could be a symptom of another underlying condition. It is imperative that pet owners seek a proper diagnosis from their veterinarian if their dog is displaying any of the signs of arthritis in order to ensure that they start an accurate treatment plan.

Arthritis in Hip | Hip Dysplasia in Dogs

Hip dysplasia is a disease in which the ball and socket joint of the hip is malformed and don’t properly meet one another. The malformation leads to a joint that grinds instead of slides with ease. In dogs with hip dysplasia, arthritis occurs primarily because the cartilage wears away at a faster rate than it can regenerate.

Your veterinarian will need to perform a series of tests including x-rays in order to accurately diagnose hip dysplasia and associated arthritis. A vet will also be able to confirm whether your dog’s condition is a degenerative joint disease or a bone disease.

Arthritis in the Back and Other Areas 

Joint pain and associated arthritis pain also commonly occur elsewhere in the dog’s body including the:

  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Wrists
  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • Lower back

In fact, any joint is able to be affected by osteoarthritis.

Causes of Arthritis in Dogs

The most common cause of canine arthritis is age. However, while aging is undeniably a major factor in the development of osteoarthritis, it is not the only one. Afterall, studies show that one in five dogs will receive an arthritis diagnosis leaving four dogs without the joint problems and inflammation. So what else is involved?

Factors such as old injuries, metabolic disorders, including diabetes, and obesity all lead to a higher risk of your dog developing osteoarthritis. As all dogs age, the cartilage surrounding their bones thin. However, if a dog is also suffering from a condition such as obesity, the inflammation, and associated joint pain is much higher.

Arthritis in Dogs caused by obesity

Is Arthritis Hereditary 

Both degenerative joint disease and inflammatory joint disease may be hereditary. There are certain breeds of dogs, such as the German Shepard, that are at a higher risk of developing degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). Additionally, inflammatory joint disease may be due to an inherited abnormality.

Diagnosing Arthritis in Dogs

In order to accurately diagnose arthritis, your vet will likely ask you a series of questions including listing any behavioral and personality changes that you’ve recently seen in your dog. The vet will then do a series of tests including blood work as well as a urinalysis. This will help rule out any additional or other conditions. While the blood tests and the urinalysis cannot provide a diagnosis of arthritis, the can help the vet determine infection and inflammation. 

After the initial tests, your veterinarian will perform a radiograph (also called x-rays) on the affected areas of your dog. The x-rays are very telling when it comes to arthritis and will provide the vet with enough information to begin an appropriate treatment plan. 

What Can I Give My Dog For Pain 

Once your veterinarian confirms that your pup has arthritis, they will often prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as Rimadyl. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs aim to reduce inflammation and decrease discomfort. However, NSAIDs come with a laundry list of pretty terrifying side effects.

The Dangers of NSAIDs for Dogs 

Any time that a veterinarian prescribes a medication for Fido we encourage pet owners to pause momentarily before accepting whatever “cure all” formula recommended. We know that as a pet owner, you may be desperate to do whatever it takes to get Fido out of pain, but in many cases, NSAIDs can cause much more harm than good, including severe, irreversible liver and kidney damage.

If you decide to move forward with treating your dog with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, it is imperative that the veterinarian first runs a blood exam to confirm that the dog’s vital organs won’t be compromised. NSAIDs may seem like the easy route but believe us when we say that in many cases, it’s a route that you’ll want to avoid.

Natural Treatment for Arthritis 

The goal of treating arthritis in dogs is to provide pain relief and increase Fido’s movement and overall function thus improving their quality of life. Whenever possible, treatment for arthritis should also involve repairing cartilage and slowing down any degeneration in the joint/joints affected.

As we mentioned, using conventional medication (NSAIDs) for the treatment of arthritis in dogs can prove to be extremely dangerous. Luckily, there are other options for arthritis treatment.

Best Glucosamine for Dogs 

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound that pet parents can add as a supplement to their dog’s diet. Studies show that glucosamine improves the body’s production of joint lubricants as well as improving the condition of the shock-absorbing cartilage within joints.

Because glucosamine is associated with cell regrowth, it makes sense that your dog’s joints aren’t the only body part that can benefit from the supplement.

Glucosamine also profits the following:

  • Nails
  • Tendons
  • Skin
  • Eyes
  • Synovial fluid
  • Bones
  • Ligaments
  • Heart valves

There are a few different forms of glucosamine but studies are showing that glucosamine sulfate is likely the most effective and the best for pain relief associated with arthritis.

As with all supplements, pet owners should make sure that they purchase from a respected, reputable company. Supplements are not regulated in the way that medications and food are, so dog owners will need to ensure that they are purchasing a quality product.


Natural anti-inflammatories are quite literally found just about everywhere. Dog owners have likely heard of the powerful herb, turmeric. In fact, coffee shops around the country are beginning to add turmeric lattes to their menus as the word continues to spread about all of the benefits that the herb has to offer.

If you don’t already know, we are happy to inform you that turmeric also has great benefits for dogs. In fact (as crazy as it may sound) turmeric has been effectively replacing a slew of toxic, conventional medications including:

  • Arthritis drugs
  • Inflammatory bowel disease drugs
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Steroids
  • Chemotherapy medications

Turmeric is one of the greatest kept secrets in the world of natural anti-inflammatories and we highly recommend giving it a shot.


Yucca has both nutritional and medicinal properties that continue to prove to effectively treat arthritis pain and joint inflammation in both humans and our dogs. In fact, holistic vets and natural health professionals report that yucca has a 50% to 80% success rate in alleviating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.


Another great natural inflammatory is the powerful herb, licorice. The herb works as an anti-inflammatory agent and effectively eases pain.


The herb comfrey has been used to treat a wide range of ailments from cancer to arthritic pain. Comfrey has a compound that is responsible for cell reproduction, making it an impressive healing supplement.

We also recommend checking out the following natural anti-inflammatory supplements:

  • Chondroitin sulfate
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Fish oil
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium
  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)

As with all new additions to Fido’s life (regardless of how health-conscious), we always recommend starting off slowly. Too much of anything can lead to digestive problems which is the last thing your pup needs when their body is already in distress. Starting with half the recommended dose and working your way up will ensure that your pup’s body adjusts appropriately so that they are able to reap all of the benefits that the supplement has to offer.

Furthermore, we highly recommend researching and speaking to a holistic vet or an herbalist in your area. You may be surprised how many medications can be replaced with natural, holistic supplement. A holistic veterinarian will be able to provide a plethora of information regarding how to best treat your pup.

Exercise and Weight Management 

Regardless of how you decide to treat Fido, exercise and weight management are imperative for all arthritic dogs. Studies show that dogs with arthritis will have rapidly worsening symptoms if they are overweight. Dog owners should ensure that their furry companion is getting the necessary amount of physical (and mental) stimulation every day.

Additionally, diet is an incredibly important factor when it comes to your dog’s overall health and well-being. Whenever possible, we recommend a species appropriate, raw food diet. That way, you can make sure that your dog is getting all of the nutrients they need without any added fillers that can cause additional health issues to arise.

Arthritis in Dogs: The Bottom Line 

We know that being a dog owner comes with its fair share of emotional challenges.Arthritis in Dogs Even once you come to terms with your pup aging, it is an entirely different conversation when they outwardly show how much discomfort they are in. Being able to naturally treat your fur baby’s pain in a non-toxic, safe, and effective way is a blessing for health-conscious dog owners. We are lucky to be living in a time where dog lovers alike can have open conversations about our options for treating our fur children in the best way that suits their individual needs.

Whenever possible, consider natural ways to relieve pain and promote overall wellness. Trust us, your four-legged friend will thank you for it!


Glucosamine for Dogs: The Complete Guide

Turmeric for Dogs: The Ultimate Guide

Top 10 Herbs For Natural Pain Relief

Arthritis in Senior Dogs — Signs and Treatment

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for