Arthritis, Part II

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the most prevalent issues affecting our dogs. It is estimated that about 80% of dogs above the age of eight years old are affected by OA, and approximately 20% of dogs of all ages may potentially be affected. In our last newsletter, we discussed some of the common risk factors for OA and potential signs that may be indicative of OA.

As there is currently no cure for OA, the degeneration of joins will progress with time. However, there are many things that we can do to support our dogs and help manage this degenerative issue.

Making Our Living Environment More OA-Friendly

Considering that our dogs do not necessarily have a choice in terms of where they live, making our home more OA-friendly is the least we can do to help them. The primary goal of these adaptations is to minimize risk of injuries from slipping, unsteady footing, and jumping. Here are 3 major things that can be implemented relatively easily:

  1. Cover slippery flooring with rugs or mats, especially in high-traffic areas, stairs, and outdoors during wet or icy weather
  2. Offer a variety of options for sleeping (e.g., orthopedic support beds, heated/cooling beds), eating and drinking (e.g., elevated bowls)
  3. Utilize stairs and ramps for easy access to furniture and vehicles
Rugs/non-slip mats can help our dogs remain steady on their feet and reduce risk of injuries.

Keeping Our Dogs Healthy, Fit and Mobile

Weight management:

Additional body weight is likely to increase pressure on joints, thus exacerbating pain and the degenerative progress, so it is recommended to always keep our dogs in their ideal body condition. Ideally, we would like to be able to easily palpate the ribs, without having to “push through” a layer of fat. If ribs are easily visible, the dog may need to gain a bit more weight; if ribs are difficult to palpate, it is likely that the dog is overweight.


Long, untrimmed nails affect the way dogs’ paws contact the floor, causing undue strain to muscles and compensatory posture. Fur under our dog’s pads is analogous to wearing socks on slippery floors, they offer little traction and pose a risk to injury especially when playing or running. Keeping their nails and fur trimmed on a regular basis is beneficial for dogs of all ages.

Trimming our dogs’ fur under their pads can prevent slipping during daily activities.

Targeted low-impact exercises:

Even for dogs who have access to large outdoor areas, regular exercise is essential to maintain their physical (and mental) well-being. Aside from regular walks or hikes, here are 3 low-impact exercises that can be safely implemented:

Stand on flat:

    • Standing with all four paws on a flat, non-slippery surface can activate core muscles, and strengthen muscles on all four limbs
    • Start by luring your dog to stand—mark + treat
    • Slowly increase duration of stand by delaying the mark + treat

    Sit Square:

    • Most of our dogs know sit already, the purpose of this exercise is to encourage good posture when sitting
      i. Front feet parallel with each other
      ii. Back feet tucked in close to the body, toes pointing forward
    • Start by asking your dog to sit on a non-slippery surface, mark + treat at height level to their head
    • If they are slouching or sitting to one side, lure with a treat to encourage them to sit up

    Stand with front feet elevated:

    • When the front feet are elevated, weight is shifted to the back, thus activating muscles on the back feet
      • Utilize curbs, steps, or stairs with non-slippery surface, no higher than elbow height
      • Encourage your dog to step up— mark + treat
      • Slowly increase duration of stand by delaying the mark + treat

      The key to exercising is consistency, and less is more. Try to incorporate these exercises into your dog’s daily routine (e.g., before mealtimes, after potty breaks, during walks) to make it into a habit! Additional safe and functional exercises to help maintain your dog’s mobility can be found here and here.

      Medications, supplements, & complimentary therapies

      Pain and inflammation are some of the most common issues for dogs suffering from OA. It is important to consult with your veterinarian care team for pain management medication. Keep in mind that long-term pain medications may be necessary for some dogs, whereas others may only require them on an as-needed basis.

      Some supplements have been shown to be beneficial for dogs suffering from OA. However, this market is unregulated and there are a wide range of products available, varying in form, dosage, absorption, and effect. It should be noted that although some supplements may help slow down the degenerative process of OA, supplements DO NOT replace pain medications. Again, it is advisable to consult with your veterinarian care team prior to adding supplements into your dog’s diet.

      Other complimentary therapies that can be helpful include physical therapy, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, acupuncture/acupressure, and massage therapy. These therapeutic modalities are not meant to replace veterinarian medicine and should only be utilized under the guidance of your primary veterinarian care team. Although state laws differ, it is important to look for practitioners who are certified by reputable organizations, insured, and open to discussing potential benefits and contraindications of each modality with you.

      What next?

      Although OA is a degenerative disease, there are many things we can do that can help our dogs live a healthy, pain-free life. Remember to objectively monitor changes in pain and/or mobility to see if medications or complimentary modalities are helping!

      Keep track of changes to see if there are changes in pain and/or mobility.

      I hope you found this information helpful, and do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions!

      Helpful Resources:

      Canine Arthritis Management:
      Canine Arthritis Resources and Education:
      Certified Companion Animal Rehabilitation Therapist Program:
      Canine Rehabilitation Institute:

      Siny Tsang, PhD, is a Certified Professional Canine Fitness Trainer (CPCFT) and small animal massage and acupressure practitioner. She is the owner of Core Pawtential, LLC, which offers in-person canine fitness and bodywork sessions in northern NJ, as well as remote canine fitness consultation worldwide. More information about Siny’s work can be found at