5 Ways to Help Arthritic Dogs and Cats

From acupuncture to weight control, follow this approach to easing arthritis in your dog or cat.

Arthritis is a common problem in dogs and cats, especially as they age. It can cause significant pain and decrease your animal’s enjoyment of life. Fortunately, there are many ways to help treat and manage arthritis, thereby improving your dog or cat’s health, quality of life, and longevity. Here are five ways to help animals with arthritis.

1. Weight Control and Diet

The most effective and important way to help control the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis is to keep your dog or cat as lean as possible. Extra fatty tissue not only puts more stress on his joints, but it also causes more inflammation. This extra inflammation inevitably leads to more pain and damage to the joints. Here are a few tips to keeping your animal lean:

  • Feed cats a raw or high-quality canned diet. While many kibble foods are improving, low-end products still have too many carbohydrates and can increase inflammation. In addition to arthritis, overweight kitties are more prone to other inflammatory diseases as well.
  • Add fiber-rich vegetables to a dog’s diet. Veggies like green beans and carrots are high in fiber and can help your dog feel fuller and more satisfied after each meal.
  • Consult with your vet. Meet with your veterinarian to help determine your dog or cat’s ideal weight and daily caloric needs. Many animal parents aren’t aware that their dogs and cats are overweight. Involving your veterinarian provides a professional opinion and he/she can also rule out any medical conditions that may be contributing to your animal’s body condition.
  • Don’t restrict calories to the point of muscle wasting. Your dog or cat needs to maintain muscle mass to stabilize and support his joints. This is another great reason to work closely with your veterinarian.

2. Adequate Physical Activity

Movement keeps joints lubricated and the muscles that support them stronger. Keeping your dog or cat active can be simple, easy and fun:

  • Take your dog for shorter, more frequent walks. It’s tempting to take one long walk at the end of the day, but for some dogs, this may cause them to become sore and less able to participate in walks the next day. If possible, try three short walks throughout the day. If you are walking your cat on a leash, she will often regulate her own pace and distance.
  • Play with your cat before mealtime. Using a stick and string toy for a few minutes before feeding can increase your cat’s daily step count while also satisfying her natural prey drive. It’s a win-win!
  • Promote movement around the house. Just as we benefit from taking more steps every day, dogs and cats can benefit from moving around the house more often. Be creative when setting up routines, especially if you have several levels to your home. Encouraging your dog or cat to move up and down the stairs throughout the day is a great way to keep her active.

3. Supplements for Joint Support

Several supplements can help decrease the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis in dogs and cats:

  • CBD: Hemp-derived CBD can make a substantial difference in quality of life for animals with arthritis. Be sure to pick a product that has at least 20 milligrams of CBD per 1 milliliter of oil. It’s also important to purchase from a company that can provide a certificate of analysis. This proves that the contents of the oil have therapeutic amounts of CBD and no pesticide or chemical residues. I recommend starting with 1 milligram of CBD per kilogram of body weight twice daily. To calculate your animal’s weight in kilograms, simply divide the number of pounds by 2.2. CBD can be given with or without food.

Extra fatty tissue not only puts more stress on his joints, but it also causes more inflammation.

  • Glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate: These help promote the healing of cartilage in joints while increasing the amount of healthy fluid to pad the joints. They are even more effective if given before arthritis becomes severe. If you have a breed that is more prone to arthritis, or has sustained an injury early in life, I recommend starting these supplements before signs of arthritis are present.
  • Adequan: This injectable supplement, available by prescription only, acts similarly to an oral glucosamine supplement by promoting the health of joint cartilage and fluid. It is generally faster-acting and has longer-lasting results than its oral counterparts. While it can be a pricey treatment, it is life-changing for some dogs and cats. Your veterinarian can teach you how to do these injections at home to avoid regular veterinary visits.
  • Fish oil: Supplements and diets that are high in Omega fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA, can decrease inflammation and significantly increase mobility in both dogs and cats. Consult your veterinarian for help finding a good Omega fatty acid product and to determine the right therapeutic dose for your animal

4. Massage and Chiropractic

Manual therapies can be very effective for pain control and help contribute to increased mobility and function in your arthritic animal. Massage can be done at home by family members several times per week, or by a trained veterinary professional. In many states, both veterinarians and chiropractors are trained to give chiropractic manipulation to animals. If you are using a human-trained chiropractor, be sure he or she has completed training specific to cats and dogs.

Many dogs and cats that receive regular massage or chiropractic care need fewer supplements and pharmaceuticals.

5. Acupuncture

This ancient modality can help improve symptoms of arthritis and many other common ailments that affect cats and dogs. Not only is acupuncture well tolerated, it is extremely safe and often effective. Cats can especially benefit from acupuncture, as they may be less willing to take supplements, tolerate massage, or cooperate with medication administration.

The Role of NSAIDS

While you may want to keep your dog or cat’s medical care as natural as possible, pharmaceutical options should not be overlooked in some instances. Used correctly, therapies like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can give animals of any age significant relief from pain and suffering. These drugs allow a dog or cat to enjoy activities that were previously painful, which can have a positive impact on his mental health.

While I recommend first starting with the therapies discussed in this article for mild to moderate symptoms of arthritis, I encourage you to be open to all possible treatment options. Even small, intermittent doses of NSAIDs can have a dramatic impact on an animal’s quality of life.

Note that these medications are not as safe for kitties with concurrent kidney disease. It is also important to remember that NSAIDs need to be prescribed by your veterinarian. Over-the-counter NSAIDs for humans are not safe alternatives for your cat or dog.

We are fortunate to have so many modalities to help us support and care for cats and dogs with arthritis. Remember that you are your animal’s best medical advocate. Assemble a team of veterinary professionals who are supportive and patient and know that your animal companion is lucky to be loved and cared for by you!

Veterinarian Dr. Angie Krause graduated from Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She incorporates many modalities into her practice, including acupuncture and herbal formulas as well as laser therapy, myofascial release, physical therapy, nutrition and more. Dr. Angie’s goal is to use the body’s innate healing ability to improve the health and longevity of dogs and cats. She has a house call practice called Boulder Holistic Vet (BoulderHolisticVet.com).


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