5 Ways to Help Senior Dogs with Arthritis

Because life never ceases to amaze us with the sheer depths of its unfairness, it would appear that despite our best efforts, our pups continue to get older. Watching your best bud struggle with arthritis is not easy, but fortunately, there are lots of ways to help. Here are 5 ways to help keep your arthritic senior dogs happy and comfortable.

1. Massage for Senior Dogs

We already mindlessly pet our animals 100% of the time we’re in front of the TV, but with a touch more intent behind it, we can give our pups the royal treatment *and* help keep those old bones as comfortable as possible. According to Dr. Francisco, owner and PT at TheK9PT in Chicago, massage goes way beyond making every day feel like a spa day. “Massage helps the back muscles that get stiff as dogs age,” he says. “If the dog is loosened up, they’re going to tolerate exercise better as well as daily walks, jumping on the furniture, and doing their normal daily tasks.” 

To begin your pup’s therapeutic massage routine, Dr. Francisco recommends starting with 5-10 minutes a day. Once they’re in a maintenance stage, 5-10 minutes every other day or every few days will help keep those muscles loose, so your pup can keep jumpin’ on your couch like it’s a bouncy house.

2. Exercises for Senior Dogs   

Sure, our pups may not be able to run marathons with you like they could in their prime, but exercise shouldn’t cease once they develop some cute white whiskers. “Exercise is probably the biggest missing piece in caring for older dogs,” says Dr. Francisco. He recommends that pet parents distinguish between walks and strength-building exercises with a strong focus on strengthening the back legs. “The compensation over time on the front legs can lead to increased tension, so focusing on strengthening the back legs regularly will help prevent overcompensation,” he emphasizes. 

To get started with exercises that don’t require any equipment that help strengthen the back legs, try having your pup do sidesteps. This makes them move in a way that is not a normal pattern and works their hip and gluteal areas. Add in backwards walking, which works those hamstring muscles, to help maintain strength so that your senior can avoid getting stuck in corners or nooks. This will require some snacks, and dogs don’t know serving sizes, so try to keep your treats low cal when possible.

3. Stretches for Senior Dogs

We all know that one of our favorite past times is saying “Oooh big stretch!” as our pups loosen up after a good nap, but did you know that there are some specific stretches you can encourage your pet to do that can be very beneficial to their joints and muscles? According to Dr. Francisco, stretches go hand-in-hand with exercise. “The lumbar spine can get really stiff and lead to the muscles in the back legs getting weak over time,” he says. “Combined with massage and exercise, stretches can help maintain that strength in the back legs that helps keep your dog comfortable.”

An easy stretch to get started with at home is a sternal extension. Have your pup lay down in a sphynx-like position, and using a treat, have them stretch forward so their spine is extended—but not so far that their bottom comes up. Think yoga’s cat-cow, but without cats because according to dogs, “eww.”

4. Supplements for Arthritis

As with all things in the world, science comes in with a save. However, it’s important to always consult your vet before adding anything new to your pet’s routine, especially if your dog is on any medication or a special diet. These supplements are unregulated, so srsly: make sure to talk about your buys with a professional who knows what’s pup.

Talk with your primary care vet about adding 2 key supplements: some sort of omega-3 and a joint supplement. “You can give extra omega-3s in their natural version by giving your dog salmon or sardines, or talk to your vet about a high-quality supplement,” stresses Dr. Francisco. “If you’re spending the money, you want to make sure you’re giving something that has the ingredients and research behind it to help their joints in the long run.” Good for your pal and good for your pocketbook? Sounds like more money for matching outfits to us!

5. Bring in the Pawfessionals

A canine physical therapist or rehab vet can work alongside your primary care veterinarian to help manage arthritis and help develop a custom plan for your pup’s wellness. “Primary care manages the medical part,” says Dr. Francisco. “We focus on the exercise and functional activities to help manage arthritis in the long run.”

In physical therapy, your dog’s mobility and pain will be evaluated and you will receive tailored guidance on a daily program to use at home to keep your buddy strong for the long haul. Many dogs can be made more comfortable with complementary therapies like acupuncture or laser therapy, too. While getting a helping paw from the pros can be an investment, most clinics are able to offer options at a number of price points—and if we’re being honest here, is there really *anything* we wouldn’t do for these guys? 

What keeps your senior dogs movin’ and shakin’? Woof at us in the comments and be sure to tag us in every last gray muzzle pic at #SidewalkDog. Please please!

Featured photo: Toni Reed

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