How to help a dog with osteoarthritis

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A diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA) in your dog might seem like an active future is at risk.

But starting a good OA management plan early can control pain and help improve your dog’s mobility and strength.1,2

The goal of treatment is to control pain and keep your dog active for longer, so they can enjoy a better quality of life. A treatment plan usually involves diet and exercise changes, as well as medicines which reduce any discomfort caused by OA.

Your vet might also discuss additional options and will modify the plan over time, according to your dog’s needs.2

Pain Control for Dogs

Currently, medicines for OA help control pain which helps reduce discomfort and helps dogs to become more active and mobile. They’re an important part of the treatment plan as they allow the dog move which helps to lubricate joints, can aid in weight loss and helps improve the dog’s quality of life.

Vets commonly prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help control pain and inflammation in dogs. NSAIDs are considered the cornerstone of osteoarthritis treatment for dogs.

In general, most dogs tolerate NSAIDs very well. If your vet prescribes NSAIDs for your dog, it is because they expect your dog to benefit from the medication, and that those benefits outweigh any risks. However, as with any medication, there are potential side effects. Your vet will let you know what issues or concerns to watch out for at home.

Your vet will usually want to see your dog at regular intervals to make sure that the treatment is working well and to catch any potential health issues. This usually includes taking blood samples and perhaps checking urine, although the recommended intervals for these tests can vary depending upon the medicine that your dog is taking.

Dog at pet owner whilst at the vet

Weight management for dogs

Excess body weight is thought to contribute to the development and progression of canine OA3. Excess weight potentially increases wear and tear due to the extra strain and stresses that it puts on joints. In addition, body fat can increase inflammation4.

By losing excess weight, dogs with osteoarthritis may expereince less pain and, and become more mobile.

Dog on weighing scales

How to change a dog’s diet to help weight loss

  • Portion control is a good place to start– instead of leaving a heaped bowl of food out all the time, establish mealtimes and measure out your dog’s food to avoid overfeeding
  • Limiting treats is important. Treats should be limited to no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories5. You can swap out traditional dog treats for low-calorie options like fruits and veggies that dogs love. Apples, peas, beans, and carrots are excellent choices but not all fruit and veggies are safe for dogs to eat. It’s important to check if other less traditional options are suitable before giving them to your dog.


It’s no secret that regular exercise is good for our health. Appropriate exercise can help to control body weight, strengthen muscles, and support joint health.

An exercise plan designed for their own needs is important for dogs living with certain long-term conditions or recovering from illness or injury.

  • Dogs with osteoarthritis still need regular, low-impact exercise. Movement helps to strengthen muscles and support joint health, so stopping their exercise can make their condition worse. 
Dog running along owner

Tips & Tricks for exercising your dog safely:

  • Consider their breed. In general, larger breeds and those that have been bred for field work or long-distance running, such as Spaniels, Huskies, Labradors, and Border Collies, require more exercise. In contrast, breeds traditionally used as companion dogs, like Shih Tzus, Yorkshire Terriers, and Miniature Dachshunds, are likely to require less exercise.
  • Give your dog regular low-impact exercise. This includes activities like walking, swimming (including hydrotherapy), and physical therapy. A physical therapist can also provide ideas for indoor exercises too.
  • Consider the surface your dog is exercising on – hard surfaces put more pressure on the joints, uneven surfaces can also be more difficult for your dog naviagate. Slippery surfaces can be difficult for dogs with arthritis to walk over.
  • Leave the ball at home – sudden braking and turning when playing with a ball can cause more damage6


1. Lascelles, D. Intl Assoc for Study of Pain 2016 Fact Sheet No. 9.

2. Cachon T, et al. Vet J. 2018;235:1-81.

3. Anderson, Katharine L et al. “Risk Factors for Canine Osteoarthritis and Its Predisposing Arthropathies: A Systematic Review.” Frontiers in veterinary science vol. 7 220. 28 Apr. 2020, doi:10.3389/fvets.2020.00220

4. Cortese L, Terrazzano G, Pelagalli A. Leptin and Immunological Profile in Obesity and Its Associated Diseases in Dogs. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(10):2392. Published 2019 May 14. doi:10.3390/ijms20102392

5. American Animal Hospital Association. 2014 AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Retrieved from:

6. Sallander, Marie H et al. “Diet, exercise, and weight as risk factors in hip dysplasia and elbow arthrosis in Labrador Retrievers.” The Journal of nutrition vol. 136,7 Suppl (2006): 2050S-2052S. doi:10.1093/jn/136.7.2050S

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