Arthritis Treatment for Dogs

Arthritis is fairly common in older dogs. It has many treatment options ranging from natural dietary supplements to prescription pain relief medications.

As the major clinical signs of arthritis relate to the pain resulting from joint degeneration, the majority of treatments are focused on improving joint health and reducing the inflammation and pain in affected areas.


Natural medications supplied in dietary supplements are known as neutraceuticals. Those neutraceuticals maintaining or boosting joint health are gaining increasing favor with owners wishing to treat their dogs with natural remedies.

There are a number of effective natural products in the field of arthritis management, with some being incorporated into commercial pet foods.

"Neutraceuticals maintaining or boosting joint health are gaining increasing favor with owners wishing to treat their dogs with natural remedies."

The majority of neutraceuticals act to improve the cartilage cushioning or shock absorption effect in the joint when a dog runs, walks or jumps. In turn, this improves joint flexibility and mobility.

Neutraceuticals provide nutrients to support the healthy structure of cartilage and prevent enzymatic breakdown of the cartilage. Some act to improve the synovial fluid quality and therefore the lubrication of the joint. Many neutraceuticals are extracted from shark and cattle cartilage or green-lipped (perna) mussels. Glucosamine and chondroitin are common ingredients in these products.

Many owners have found them to be highly effective in helping their dogs. Neutraceuticals are also associated with a lower risk of adverse side effects than many other therapies available.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are prescription medications which relieve the pain and inflammation of arthritis.

The body contains substances called prostaglandins which are involved in pain production, cell destruction and inflammation. However not all prostaglandins are bad; some are also involved in protecting the stomach wall from acid and maintaining blood flow to the stomach, intestines and kidney, while others called thromboxanes assist in blood clotting in the event of a wound.

In the treatment of arthritis pain, the aim is to prevent the production of the prostaglandins involved in inflammation but to spare those involved in maintaining gut and kidney health and the ability of the blood to clot.

NSAIDs block cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, preventing the production of prostaglandins. However, there are two types of COX enzymes, which produce different prostaglandins.

  • COX-1 produces the housekeeping enzymes involved in protecting the stomach, intestines and kidney function.
  • COX-2 produces the enzymes associated with pain and inflammation. Damaged cartilage and synovial cells are induced to produce this enzyme, worsening the joint damage.

Different NSAIDs have different abilities to block each of the forms of COX. Most of those approved for use in dogs tend to select for blocking COX-2 more than COX-1, thus making them safer and more effective in relieving pain and inflammation.

However, all NSAIDs have the potential to cause ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract or kidney dysfunction, so dogs on these medications should be monitored for these problems.


Corticosteroids are potent anti-inflammatory drugs. They act on an enzyme contributing to inflammation at a higher level than that of the COX enzymes, so corticosteroids have a more profound anti-inflammatory activity than NSAIDs.

Arthritis medications

Petshed's most popular arthritis treatments.

Corticosteroids also have a number of side effects. Most owners will notice an increase in their dog's appetite, water consumption and urination. Corticosteroids can cause similar problems to NSAIDs in terms of gastrointestinal ulceration, in addition to causing liver problems, slowing wound healing and interfering with the immune function.

If you suspect your dog has osteoarthritis, consult your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and to discuss the most suitable treatment options. Medications are only a part of arthritis management, and you vet may also recommend a diet and exercise program.