What Can I Give My Dog For Arthritis?

There is no animal treatment that provokes more debate than arthritis medication. The sheer number of treatments on offer is bewildering. Why??

  1. Arthritis is common: it’s a big market with a lot of competition from different products
  2. It’s hard to tell when treatment helps: real improvements is often hard to distinguish from the placebo effect
  3. There’s no silver bullet: despite some good options, owners of badly affected dogs know that we still can’t do enough to help them

Your dog isn’t going to complain if you get it wrong. If you have an arthritic dog, you need to know what works. Here I’ll try to show you what the evidence for arthritis treatments tells us.

You might also like: Treating arthritis & pain in cats | Arthritis in rabbits

Dog Arthritis Treatments

I’ll do my best to be as open-minded as I can but I’m also going to be blunt about where the evidence doesn’t sit. Using an ineffective treatment is not just useless, it gets in the way of using something else that might actually work.

Arthritis Supplements & Home Remedies

antinol arthritis treatment

Heres a list of the supplements we see being used in dogs. Only one of these has enough evidence to recommend it. Can you guess which one?

  • Glucosamine & chondroitin
  • Green lipped mussel extract
  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)
  • Turmeric
  • Rosehip oil
  • Cannabis oil
4cyte arthritis treatment

The answer is green-lipped mussel or GLM. The evidence is only low-grade but it fits with our clinical experience.

Many dog owners will remember Sasha’s Blend. Nowadays most Australian vets have moved on to two other purified products, Antinol and 4Cyte, which have better clinical trials and efficacy in our experience. There are also many over-the-counter GLM supplements. All are given as a daily tablet or capsule.

Dog Arthritis Diets

OK, I was fibbing a little. Did you wonder why I missed out fish oil? Fish oil actually also works as a supplement but in a very, very disappointing way. That is, until you integrate it into a diet.

Most arthritis diets just add fish oil, glucosamine, plus some other ingredients, and hope for the best. Personally, I don’t think any of these work and the evidence is lacking.

dog arthritis food
Hills j/d in tins and dry

One diet does something clever with fish oil and actually works. It’s called Hills j/d. What they do is remove a precise amount of the competing (and common) omega-6 fatty acids so that the omega-3s in fish oil can work unimpeded.

The effects are significant and repeatable especially in mild to moderate arthritis. Even in severe cases, it can help in combination with other treatments. The only time I don’t recommend j/d is in dogs sensitive to changing their food.

Dog Arthritis Injections

Cartrophen, Zydax, Synovan, and Arthropen are all brands of pentosan polysulfate sodium. Google this drug and you’ll see that after 30 years of successful use in animals, it’s finally making it to humans.

Cartrophen-Vet is the brand we use and trust. It produces excellent results in mild to moderate arthritis and is almost completely free of side effects. There is virtually no arthritic dog that cannot be given Cartrophen safely.

Cartrophen is part of our first line treatment when a diagnosis is made. Four injections are given at weekly intervals. Its use can often delay the need for other treatments for many years.

There are no other recommended arthritis injections. In the past, long-acting cortisone was also used. This is outdated and rarely a good idea due to poor results and significant side effects.

Dog Anti Inflammatory Drugs

The biggest mistake I see is dog owners worrying so much about non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) side effects that they won’t use them. Once your dog needs pain relief, these drugs are lifesavers and nearly always very safe.

dog pain pyramid
The picture is from a pain management lecture I attended in the UK. It shows the relative importance of different drugs in controlling pain. It’s a welfare issue.

There are plenty of dog NSAIDs to choose from with different side effect risks, efficacy, and costs. They include carprofen, meloxicam, firocoxib, etodolac, and robenacoxib. We use three of these based on owner preferences.

When side effects occur they are mainly vomiting and diarrhoea due to gastrointestinal ulcers. If this happens, a pause or change in medication is required. Liver or kidney damage can occur but should be rare if blood testing is performed before, and then again shortly after starting.

Prednisolone and other cortisone drugs are also anti-inflammatory but should definitely be avoided unless there’s no alternative. They do not work well and cause serious side effects at the doses that are needed.

Other Pain Relief Drugs

Tramadol, amantadine, and gabapentin can be used as second-line pain treatments. None of them is likely to work as well as an anti-inflammatory but they often work well in combination with one.

If used carefully, the only side effects are mild sedation when given at higher doses.

Over The Counter Pain Relief

If you visit our page on over the counter and pharmacy dog medicines you’ll see I discuss human drugs for dogs. You’ll also see how dangerous nearly all of these are to dogs.

The only exception is paracetamol (acetaminophen in the US). On its own, it’s fairly useless but is sometimes added to existing pain protocols to improve the response. However, even in this case, there’s usually a better option elsewhere.

Dog Stem Cells

Tricky one. There’s a lot of confusion about stem cells. What they don’t do is regenerate anything in arthritic joints. Instead they are thought to act by releasing chemical signals that shut down inflammation. In other words, as living anti-inflammatories.

There is some evidence that fat-derived mesenchymal stem cells can relieve the signs of canine arthritis. Based on this, we administered stem cell therapy to dogs between 2012 and 2015, with some success.

Why did we stop? Despite the glowing reports, the majority of our patients showed minimal improvement. We feel that until there is more clinical evidence, the cost and effort are better spent elsewhere.

Other Remedies

Lastly, we should never overlook other ways of treating arthritis. First among these is weight loss. I have seen dogs who were still in pain on maximum doses of everything then come off all treatments after successfully losing weight. That’s why I’m a bit too much of a nag about it.

The same goes for moderating the exercise. Still throwing the tennis ball may be what your old Kelpie wants, but they are likely to suffer for it over the rest of the day. Far better to go for long, steady, low-impact walks than too much running or jumping on bad joints. Dogs need you to tell them when to stop.

I have much less experience with physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, cold laser treatments or other alternative remedies. All I will say is this: if it’s working, keep doing it.

By ‘working’ I don’t mean, “he’s looking much more energetic”. I mean being able to show that your dog can definitely do something specific after treatment that they couldn’t do before. Having a good working definition of success like that should minimise any caregiver placebo bias. 

This page on the caregiver placebo effect is my attempt to explain the confusion we all face. Thanks for reading this most important topic. If you want to dive deeper, visit our page on the causes and symptoms of arthritis.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.


4 Replies to “What Can I Give My Dog For Arthritis?”

  1. Hello Andrew,
    I’ve just found your website by accident, and have to say it’s one of the most informative I’ve found – I’m talking Australia. Most other sites seem to be located in America.
    We have a 15 yr old Toller, with some arthritis and wasting in hind legs. He enjoys a short walk (at his pace) once the temperature has risen. He doesn’t limp while walking, but sometimes one or other of his hind legs collapses, so we wait, then go on. I know there’s not much can be done for muscle wasting and, of course, he doesn’t whine or complain, but I’d like to do more if I can. He had Synovan, in combination with Onsior, which he didn’t tolerate as he has irritable bowel issues. His weight is constant around 18.5ks. Spleen was removed some 4 yrs ago, and he does have a mild heart murmur. I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    1. Hi Evelyn. Thanks for the question. You’ve certainly made some good choices. I would keep looking for that anti-inflammatory that he will tolerate, as for him it will probably produce the greatest benefit. The list is in the article but I would start with good old carprofen if robenacoxib isn’t tolerated. Also, keep using the Synovan and letting him dictate the pace & speed of his walks. Good luck!

  2. Your article on artheritis in dogs intertest me. I have a 7.2kl Westie who has just had xrays showing small areas of the dreaded A in patches down her right rear leg.
    Is it possible to be sent the artice in an email so my partner can read it too, he is not keen on reading on the computer so I need to have a hard copy.

    1. Thanks for your interest in the article Susanne – I have sent a copy. If you want to receive future posts via email you can sign you up in the email box at the bottom of the posts and they are sent out in advance of Facebook.

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