Pain Relief for arthritic dogs

Pain relief for arthritic dogs

If you have recently found that your dog suffers from canine arthritis, don’t despair there is help available for dog arthritis pain relief. Arthritis is the most common cause of chronic pain in dogs and there are a myriad of therapies and joint supplements that can help.

Veterinarians most often recommend a multi-modal  or combination of approaches to the treatment of arthritis. There is no ‘one pill’ that will fit all types of arthritic pain. Often, pain relief for arthritic dogs includes a combination of prescription drugs, over-the-counter supplements, holistic therapies and even physical therapy. Here we will give a brief overview of what is available to help control your dog’s pain and improve mobility.

Traditional pain relief methods for canine arthritis

‘Traditional’ methods of dog arthritis pain relief include common prescription drugs. Some of these have been used for many years, while others are newer to veterinary medicine.

NSAIDs for arthritis pain

NSAIDs are also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs help to control pain by targeting chemicals in the body associated with inflammation. Certain NSAIDs are more “specific” than others and may cause fewer side effects.

NSAIDs are used for mild to severe arthritis pain. Joint supplements for dogs are often paired with NSAIDs for more mild to moderate pain.

It is important to only use a veterinary-prescribed NSAID. Over-the-counter ‘human NSAIDs’ such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) are toxic to dogs.

Narcotics in arthritis pain management

Drugs with narcotic-like effects, such as Tramadol, are commonly used to control pain. Narcotics control pain by blocking pain sensation in the brain. Narcotics can be used for dogs with moderate to severe arthritis pain or for dogs that cannot take NSAIDs for mild to moderate pain.

Other narcotics are available for dogs with severe arthritis pain, such as Fentanyl skin patches, Vicodin and buprenorphine.


Gabapentin is a fairly new medication in the world of canine pain control. It has been used in humans to treat neurologic pain and to treat seizures. Gabapentin is a good option for some dogs that cannot take narcotics or NSAIDs. It is often paired with other drugs for control of severe arthritis or post-operative pain.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) treatments

Arthritis supplement for dogsJoint supplements for dogs

Joint supplements are the most common OTC pain control option available for dog arthritis pain relief. Most joint supplements contain a few active ingredients, not limited to:

  • Glucosaminoglycans (GAGs), such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
  • MSM (Methylsulfonylemethane)
  • Antioxidants, such as avocado oil
  • Essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-7

Joint supplements specifically for dogs are formulated to nourish the cartilage and reduce inflammation on a small scale. GAGs are substances that help to keep the joint lubricated and help the cartilage to repair itself.

The number of joint supplement formulations out there can be overwhelming.  Some supplements may contain allergens such as shellfish or beef. Others may not contain the active ingredients in beneficial amounts, so it is best to go with a trusted brand.

Natural pain relief for arthritis in dogs

natural arthritis treatments for dogs

Joint supplements are often considered a ‘natural’ way to control pain, but other modalities are also used as well, including Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). Herbs that are helpful for arthritis pain include turmeric, reishi mushroom and the Boswellia. It is important to talk to a holistic veterinarian that practices TCVM before giving your dog herbs. They are certainly natural, but they have potent pharmaceutical properties.

In TCVM, acupuncture controls pain by restoring balance along the body’s meridians.

Cold Laser Therapy

Cold laser therapy is mainstream in many veterinary practices today. These low-level lasers stimulate healing and improve blood flow to tense muscles and into the inflamed joints themselves.

Massage and Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy and massage help to treat arthritis by relaxing muscles. Often, when joint pain is present, the surrounding muscles are affected as well. For example, shoulder and neck pain is common in patients that suffer from spinal arthritis. If there is no canine physiotherapist in your area, gentle massage and passive range-of-motion can be done at home. Passive range of motion therapy is where the joint is moved through a range of motion with no effort from the dog.

Along with the treatments mentioned earlier for dog arthritis pain relief, such as joint supplements for dogs, practical support like memory-foam dog bedding can also help to alleviate discomfort and cushion sensitive joints and muscles and provide pain relief for arthritic dogs.

Canine arthritis symptoms
Deborah with Danger

Dr. Deborah Shores. DVM (Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine.)

Dr. Shores is a qualified American veterinarian, writer and consultant.


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