MANAGING ARTHRITIS AND OTHER JOINT ISSUES IN DOGS

Old Labrador dog lying on the floor

Arthritis is an umbrella term used to describe joint inflammation and can be the result of wear and tear in older dogs or brought on by poor formation of, or injury to joints, hence the manner in which arthritis affects individual dogs is very broad.
There are many things you can do to make your dog's life more comfortable and to keep them mobile and enjoying life even with arthritis and other joint issues. These do not necessarily involve medication or supplements and taking action early can delay the time when such actions are required.


Simple lifestyle choices will make a big difference to the avoidance of joint injury and delay the onset of arthritis:

  • Make sure your dog is not overweight as carrying extra weight puts unnecessary load on joints.
  • Avoid repetitive games that involve them jumping and landing awkwardly or heavily.
  • Do not over-walk puppies - use mind games and stimulus to use up their energy.
  • Don't let your dog go upstairs, particularly puppies and older dogs who are wobbly on their feet.
  • Avoid having slippery floors - they are a nightmare for older dogs and can affect correct joint formation in puppies
  • Getting in and out of vehicles puts considerable strain on young and old dogs alike. Consider using a ramp or lifting your dog.
  • And, of course, get them a bed appropriate to their size and weight.
Canine Arthritis management free information platform

Canine Arthritis Management is a free to use on-line platform with a huge wealth of information about helping your dog to live with arthritis. It was created and is run on a voluntary basis by vets, vet nurses and veterinary physiotherapists. Both the website and the Facebook page offer a wealth of information you will not find in one place elsewhere.

If your dog has arthritis or another joint issue that impinges on their mobility and quality of life, we strongly advise you to take a look at this resource.

Find the right a bed for a dog with arthritis

In choosing a bed for a dog with arthritis, you must look at the individual behaviour of the dog. Do they drag one or more paws; is the ground clearance of their paws causing their claws to catch; do they struggle to stand up; if they have a wobble on an uneven or unstable surface do they tend to sit down; are they stiff after walking; are they stiff after a car journey; do they seek cool surfaces to lie on; do they struggle with steps; are slippery surfaces now problematic; and so the list continues. Try writing down all the things you observe your dog is having difficulty with and put those alongside any changes in behaviour before you start looking for a bed.

The term orthopaedic is often used in the search for a bed suit able for older/arthritic dogs. It is a rather abused term and is not really a useful guide to the suitability of a bed for an arthritic dog. It is the particular characteristics of the bed and whether they are appropriate to your dog’s condition and symptoms that are important. Make sure the vendor of a bed described as orthopaedic provides a full description of the bed, so you know exactly what you are getting. Read past the waffle. Email them for more information if it is not readily available on the website or product label in the shop.

People get very tied up in what a bed is made of. Memory foam is nearly always lauded as the magic material for ‘orthopaedic’ beds. Memory foam is just a foam with characteristics that may or may not meet the specific needs of your arthritic dog. It retains heat and is not suitable for heavy coated dogs. It is quite soft, and a deep memory foam bed can be difficult for a stiff dog to stand up on. For small and light weight dogs, memory foam alone may be entirely suitable, but for large dogs, it needs to have another firmer foam layer as well to give adequate support. Other fillings include polyester fibre of various qualities, foam blocks and foam chips again of various qualities, polystyrene beads, wool, and so on. Each of these could be appropriate for an arthritic dog if constructed in the right way and depending on the weight of the dog.

The main thing is that the bed cushion is stable when stepped on and remains under the dog while they are lying on it. It should also be readily accessed and not present the dog with a wall of bed edge to climb over. If your mobility were compromised, you wouldn’t want to be faced with a clamber every time you want to get on or off your bed.

ORTHOPAEDIC BED CHECK LIST

  • Support – enough for the weight of your dog
  • Size – enough to stretch out
  • Depth – low, firm edges to make access easy 
  • Stability – to enable your dog to stand up with confidence
  • Surface – nonslip and clear of wrinkles

AVOID

  • Squishy beds that look super comfy, but leave your dog swimming in filling, catching their toes and finding it difficult to stand up.
  • Loose covers that move around catching feet. Don’t add a blanket or similar – they just add difficulty and serve no real purpose.