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  • Tiffany Downing, RVT

Crunchy Doggos - Managing Osteoarthritis

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Getting old is no fun! Although, dogs of any age can develop Osteoarthritis, especially if they've had an injury. Included below are some tips, tricks, warnings, and other info to help you keep your pup mobile and comfortable. Should you have any questions on any of this information or would like more details, feel free to ask the CROC team. We are here to support you and your best friend!

german shepherd dog participating in hydrotherapy

Weight Management

Keeping your dog at a lean body weight is the most important aspect of managing this condition. Fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest! Sometimes, it’s as simple as adjusting their meal portions. Other times, a complete switch to a new food is necessary. These days, there are a wide variety of AAFCO formulated Weight Management or Weight Loss diets readily available for purchase. Some are even specifically formulated for Senior Pets or for those needing extra Joint Support. Be sure to look for diets that are high in Essential Fatty Acids. Generally speaking, your goal Body Condition Score for an arthritic dog is a 4 out of 9, a little on the skinny side. If you'd like more information about managing your dog's weight, be sure to read through our article about Body Condition Scores here:


Dasuquin Advanced with MSM is an excellent daily joint supplement that many of our team members choose to use for their own pets. It includes Chondroitin, Glucosamine, and other ingredients to support joint health and it comes in a tasty, chewy treat, making it an easy addition to your daily routine.

Heeler mix sitting and smiling

Fish Oil added to your pet’s meals is another easy addition to help keep joints happy (and it helps their coat too!). Start with 500-600mg per day, then increase to 1000-1200mg per day. It is important to start slow with this as some pets may be sensitive and have GI symptoms if started too quickly.

Myos Canine Muscle Formula is a supplement containing Fortetropin, a natural bioactive supplement made from fertilized egg yolk. Myos has been credited with improving muscle health, helping to reduce muscle loss (atrophy) and helping regain muscle after surgery or with other disease processes. It has also been shown to help skin, coat, cognitive, and bone health.


Adequan (Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan) is a series of injections that stimulates cartilage healing, slows the progression of osteoarthritis, and decreases pain and inflammation. It begins with an initial series of 8 injections with one injection given every 3-4 days. Once that is complete, many pets can drop down to a maintenance schedule of one injection every 1-6 months. For larger dogs, this can be a costly investment to get started, but we have seen significant improvement for many dogs using this medication. If you have concerns about giving your dog injections, be sure to speak to your veterinarian for options like an in-person demo or having their staff perform the injections for you. You can also speak to the CROC team.

Pit Bull receiving massage therapy

Common NSAIDS - Rimadyl (carprofen), Metacam (meloxicam), Deramaxx (deracoxib), and their Generics are Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory medications that can be extremely helpful for managing pain and inflammation and since many generics exist, it can be easier to find one that fits your budget. They can have long term side effects to the liver and kidneys so regular bloodwork is strongly recommended to catch any change in organ function early. They must also be given with food! Some pets don’t tolerate these medications well and can have serious GI side effects like stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. It is important to monitor your dog for any signs of vomiting, diarrhea, or dark stools while on these medications. Some pets REALLY like the taste of the flavored tablets so store these medications with caution, securely out of reach of your pet.

Galliprant (grapiprant) is a newer type of Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory that has less side effects than the more widely known NSAIDS listed above. It is reported to have less effects on liver, kidneys, and GI tract and can be safely used alongside a wider selection of other medications. Because it is newer and a more specific medication, it is generally more costly than the above listed NSAIDS that have been around longer.

Vizla participating in hydrotherapy

Neurontin (gabapentin) is a medication primarily used to treat nerve pain, though it can also help with anxiety. Many pets experience some level of drowsiness when they first start this medication, but they usually become accustomed to it and return to their normal energy level after some time. Besides sedation, other side effects are extremely rare. This medication is a good option for pets that cannot tolerate NSAIDS and it can also be used alongside NSAIDS and many other medications.

Tramadol is a synthetic opioid that has been commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain in dogs. Newer studies on this medication show that it may be less effective than previously thought, with only a small fraction of dogs getting any pain relief from it. Side effects from Tramadol include sedation, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite

Other Options

If the above options aren’t working well with your dog, be sure to speak to your regular veterinarian about other medication options for pain relief. There are new medications coming out frequently that might be a better fit for your pet. Stem Cell Treatments are now available for pets and may be something that could potentially help your pet. There are also other, non-medication treatments which we will discuss below that might help reduce your pet’s pain

Exercising at Home

Chow Chow performing step-up exercise

As part of your Consultation with us, you will have been provided with Veterinarian Prescribed Rehab Exercises (your Homework). These exercises will help keep your dog limber and improve their strength and stamina while maintaining their range of motion. Always have your pet warm up before exercise and cool down after exercise. There should never be sudden changes between inactivity and exercise. Osteoarthritis flare-ups are common and can even be caused by changes in the weather. Regular walks, tailored to your pet’s abilities are an important part of keeping those arthritic joints moving, reducing stiffness. Make sure to do shorter, more frequent walks instead of one long walk every day.

Avoid becoming the “Weekend Warrior” as over-exercising and acrobatic activities such as ball and Frisbee chasing are recipes for pain and stiffness later. Unfortunately, this also applies to rough play with housemates and other animal friends.

Your dog may have once been the rough and tumble, go-go-go type, but it’s important to think of an OA dog as an antique luxury car. They’re still wonderful and should be taken out to enjoy the world, but great care should be applied when doing so. Regular maintenance and preparation will make all the difference for your dog’s experience.

Swimming is frequently thought of as a low impact and helpful exercise for OA dogs, however it commonly causes significant abuse to the elbows, shoulders, and hip joints leading to inflammatory flare-ups. The act of swimming can also put a lot of stress and extra movement on the spine. Opt instead for walking in warm water at your dog’s armpit level. Do this at very slow intervals to decrease the repetitive grinding of any arthritic joints. Swimming exercises typically do not help pets become better or stronger at walking outside of the water.

Physical Rehabilitation

Labrador taking a break from physical rehabilitation therapy

Participating in Physical Rehabilitation Therapy at CROC allows your dog to get exactly the exercises and pain relief that they need on a regular basis to keep them comfortable and mobile, while also slowing the progression of their arthritis and atrophy. Our team closely monitors your pet’s abilities and adjusts their sessions as needed while also keeping you updated as your pet progresses. Therapy Sessions at CROC include multiple pain relief modalities like Thermotherapy, Cryotherapy, Laser Therapy, Therapeutic Ultrasound, PEMF, E-Stim, and Massage Therapy to be used as appropriate for your pet’s condition. Veterinary Medical Acupuncture is another option CROC offers to provide pain relief and increase circulation. Daily participation in at-home exercises can wear you down! Let us do some of that work for you and take your pet home feeling better than when you dropped them off.

Environmental Modifications

Use a good quality dog bed! Memory foam is an ideal material. Your dog’s bed should be at least 1 1⁄2 times as long as your dog and at least 1-2 inches of thickness for every 40lbs of body weight. Encourage your dog to change position frequently, such as switching which side of their body they lay on. Laying in one position for extended periods of time will lead to significant stiffness and pain once they go to get up.

Slippery, hard floors are tough on OA dogs. Rugs, yoga mats, and the like are extremely beneficial to help keep your dog on their feet and avoiding slips and falls.

Minimize how often your dog has to climb stairs, especially if they are shallow and tall. If you live in a home with multiple levels, you may need to carry your dog up and down the stairs. If you are unable to carry your dog, it may be necessary to contain your dog to one level of your home.

german shepherd dog with congenital defect laying on bed

Don’t allow your pet to jump on and off furniture or in and out of your car. Especially jumping down, these types of movements put extreme stress on the body and are a very common cause for injury. Use ramps whenever possible.

Change the location of certain resources. Some dogs need to have their food, water, and bed close together to avoid over-exerting themselves to reach basic necessities. Others need these resources placed farther apart to encourage more movement during the day. Be sure to ask what would best suit your pet’s needs.

Engage in activities that require more mental participation from your dog. Whether it’s toys that have treat tucked inside or playing a game of hide and seek, mind games help keep your dog bright, engaged, and active even when their body may need a bit of a rest.

Doggie Doors need to be large enough for your dog to walk through without having to stoop or crouch. The bottom lip must also be low enough for your dog to easily step over.


There are so many options to manager your dog's Osteoarthritis, it can be difficult to know which are the right options for your pet. The CROC team is always available to discuss your pet's case specifically and to help you find a management plan that fits your lifestyle and your dog's needs. Our arthritic pups got that way from a lifetime spent at our side, so it's only fair that we return their dedication by treating their aches and pains to the best of our ability.

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