Arthritis, Your senior dog, and You

Dog lovers share a lot with their dogs, including arthritis pain and discomfort. The affliction is just as prevalent in dogs as it is in humans, and vice-versa. Here are some tips for helping your arthritic dog (usually elderly) cope with the challenges this chronic condition can bring.

First and foremost, give your dog supplements. I’ve tried many. Back in the early 1980s, my beloved black Lab, Timba (who lived to be 18!) was afflicted with terrible arthritis. She accompanied me to work every day of her life, and when it became clear that maneuvering the stairs at our spacious office complex, and getting in and out of the car, became major obstacles, it was devastating. A horse-loving friend brought me a big bucket of powdered glucosamine and chondroitin (for horses). She instructed me to lower the dosage and sprinkle the powder on Timba’s food. (I might add, this was before these type of supplements were available for humans and small animals — remember it was the ’80s!) Within weeks, Timba was not only climbing the stairs and hopping in and out of the car effortlessly, she was also running again (well, ok, trotting), and she was also peeing, a lot! Now we know why someone invented the phrase “peeing like a race horse”.

Decades later, I’ve tried many, many different supplements for Hobie, who turns 13 this week. The best one I’ve found, after much searching, is called Phycox. They are soft chews that smell like sausage. He reminds me of his twice-a-day dosage like clockwork. We never miss a dose thanks to his barky insistence. These supplements were originally prescribed by our vet, but I ended up finding them online and can buy larger quantities that way. I also sneak one to three-legged Cooper once in a while, as he puts a lot of strain on that one front leg. It certainly can’t hurt, right?

The next thing is assistance devices. Unfortunately, we have three full flights of stairs at our house, and Hobie must maneuver these several times a day. He’s a trooper! Just when I think we’re going to have to start bringing him out the front door (only three steps), he surprises me by joining me upstairs in my office while I work. We have a ramp for getting in and out of the car, but he often just looks at me and expects me to lift all 80 pounds of him (which I can do one section at a time: front legs first, then the back). There will come a time when we will have to baby-gate the longer stairways, and help him in and out of the front door. He won’t be able to go on car rides at some point. We’re not looking forward to that. Some dogs have wheelchair-type devices — they are expensive, but if the dog’s quality of life is otherwise good, it’s probably a great investment. We are lucky, the most well-known manufacturer of these custom-made devices is right here in Massachusetts, less than an hour away from where we live. Doggie slings and harnesses are also a good thing to have handy for your arthritic hound.

Massage or acupuncture: unless you know what you’re doing, you might want to have a professional deliver a doggie massage to your pup. I tried to massage Hobie once and his leg ended up locking up on him and he couldn’t even stand up. So much for my dream of becoming a doggie massage therapist! Although we’ve never tried it, acupuncture for dogs seems to bring great relief.

Trim those nails! This is so important. A canine with arthritis has a hard enough time getting around without having clicking talons added to the commotion. Most older dogs will let you trim their nails even if they balked in their younger days. I take Hobie to the groomer, he still tries to take a bite out of me when I approach with the clippers! A 10-minute visit to the groomer (no appointment necessary) and 15 bucks will do the trick. Don’t hesitate to do this regularly and often, it helps an arthritic dog more than just about anything. The results are very dramatic.

A few more things should be mentioned: gentle exercise, short but frequent walks, fresh air, sunshine, a soft, warm place to snooze, a doggie aspirin on particularly bad days and lots of love and attention are crucial for your painful hound. Hobie likes it when I help him up onto the couch so he can snuggle with us.

As I clear the tableau of middle age, I, too, suffer from painful inflamed joints. There were many things I imagined I would share with Hobie when we adopted him 13 years ago. Arthritis wasn’t one of them!

Share your questions or tips for canine arthritis care in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

K.S. Mueller is a travel executive living in Massachusetts who writes essays about dogs, cats and other topics in her spare time. Check out her web sites:; and Follow K.S.Mueller on Facebook and Twitter.

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