How to Control Arthritis Pain in Dogs

Two Parts:Giving Your Dog MedicationEasing Daily Joint Stress

Dogs are wonderful companions—they can bring you joy and comfort when you need it most. As your dog ages, you can repay the kindnesses your dog shows you by making him as comfortable as possible. Old dogs often develop arthritis, though the condition is not always exclusive to old age. If your dog has developed arthritis, there are both medical and natural ways that you can keep your furry friend comfortable and happy. Keep in mind that you should always talk to your dog’s vet before giving your dog medications, including over-the-counter meds.

Part 1
Giving Your Dog Medication

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    Talk to a vet about giving your dog aspirin to treat intermittent pain. If your dog limps after a long hike or a hard run, but generally doesn’t show signs of pain on a day-to-day basis, you may consider giving your dog aspirin, rather than prescription medication, on the days when he is in pain. Aspirin helps to relieve pain and inflammation. You should not give your dog aspirin every day, only on relatively rare occasions.[1]
    • Give an otherwise healthy, hydrated dog 10mg per every kilogram of weight, twice a day, with or after food. For example, a typical dose for a 30kg Labrador would be one 300 mg tablet twice a day with food.
    • Always give aspirin with or after food because taking aspirin with an empty stomach on a regular basis can lead to gastrointestinal problems like ulcers.
    • Never give aspirin to a dog who is taking steroid medication or other NSAID medications.
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    Consider giving your dog paracetamol (aka acetaminophen). This over-the-counter medication gives mild to moderate pain relief. It is a part of the NSAID (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs) family and will also keep your dog’s joints from becoming inflamed. You can give your dog:
    • 10 mg per kg of weight, by mouth, twice a day, with or after food. For example, most acetaminophen comes in 500 mg tablets, so a 30 kg Labrador could take three-fifths of a tablet twice a day, with food.
    • The side effects are similar to aspirin. Always make sure that your dog has eaten and is hydrated before giving him this medication, because acetaminophen can cause liver damage and ulcers. Never go over the recommended dose.
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    Give your dog prescription NSAIDs. As stated above, NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If your dog is in moderate to severe pain and needs relief every day, you should go to a veterinarian to get a prescription for strong NSAIDs or opioids (see Step 4) because these medications are safe for long term use. Prescription NSAIDs fight pain and inflammation but have less negative effects on the stomach, liver and kidneys than over-the-counter NSAIDs do.[2]
    • The most commonly prescribed NSAIDs are meloxicam (Metacam), carprofen (Rimadyl), and robenacoxib (Onsior).
    • The maintenance dose of metacam is 0.05 mg/kg by mouth, with or after food, once daily. For example, the oral suspension metacam is 1.5 mg/ml and so a 30 kg Lab requires 1 ml daily on his food.
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    Talk to a vet about giving your dog opioids. If your dog is in severe pain, your vet will most likely prescribe an opioid. This type of medication is like morphine but does not sedate your dog or cause stomach irritation. They can be taken with NSAIDs without any ill effects.
    • Most veterinarians prescribe a dose of 2 mg/kg, twice daily. Tramadol, the most common opioid comes in 50 mg or 100 mg and the capsules should not be split, so Tramadol may not be an option for small dogs because you cannot give a low enough dose.
    • Too high a dose will result in profound sedation, which usually wears off after 6 – 8 hours.

Part 2
Easing Daily Joint Stress

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    Put your dog on a diet. When a dog has arthritis, it can be hard for him to move around and maintain a healthy weight. However, the extra weight can actually make the arthritis worse, so it’s important to help your dog with weight control. Cut back the amount of food your dog gets every day and you will most likely see a drastic improvement in his condition.[3]
    • In fact, it has been proven[4] that actually helping your dog lose that burden of extra weight can relieve their arthritis so much that they don’t need to take medication anymore. It is good to keep your dog on medication while he loses weight, but when he gets back to a healthy weight, you can talk to your vet about taking him off medication.
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    Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. While an arthritic dog may have a hard time walking, it is still important to make sure that he gets regular low-impact exercise because getting no exercise can actually make his joints stiffer. Low-impact exercise helps joint fluid to circulate (keeping your dog flexible), promotes good blood circulation, and keeps up muscle strength.[5]
    • Your dog should exercise for the same length of time every day. A good baseline amount of exercise is 30 minutes of walking, swimming, or running every day. Swimming in particular is good because it gets your dog moving but takes the pressure off of his hips and joints.
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    Help your dog by giving him heat therapy. Heat therapy is great for getting rid of pain in a specific spot. Heat helps keep synovial fluid circulating (so that your dog can feel limber) and reduces the build-up of inflammatory chemicals within the joint (which makes your dog’s joints stiff).[6] You can provide your dog with heat therapy by:
    • Getting your dog a heated sleeping pad. Heated sleeping pads both provide heat for your dog, so he is less stiff in the morning, while also cushioning his arthritic joints, making him more comfortable.
    • Cover your dog with a blanket on chill nights. The blanket will keep your dog warm, which will help keep his joints from stiffening up.
    • Get a microwaveable wheat bag. These bags can be heated in the microwave and then placed on the spot where your dog experiences the most pain and stiffness.
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    Put down padding that can help your dog walk on slippery floors. Smooth hardwood floors can pose a challenge to an arthritic dog because he cannot get a good grip as he walks. Because of this, you might want to consider putting a grippy surface, such as the no-slip grip pads you put under rugs, on hardwood floors to help your dog move around.
    • It is particularly helpful to put carpeting or grip pads on slippery stairs if your dog goes up and down the stairs. This will help him to get up and down without falling.
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    Put ramps in your house. You can take the strain off sore joints by offering your dog a ramp to access the car or another level of your house. Ramps make it easier to get up and down stairs because they take the pressure off of your dog’s arthritic joints.[7]
    • Some dogs will ignore their pain in an effort to follow you upstairs at night, so it might be a good idea to put up a barrier at the bottom of your stairs if your dog wants to come up but you have not purchased non-skid carpeting or a ramp yet.
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    Elevate your dog’s food and water bowl. Sometimes, dogs can get arthritis in their necks and spines. If your dog has this problem, you can make his life a lot easier by putting his food and water bowl on a short table or elevating it in some other way. When you do this, he will be able to access his food and water much more easily without having to put painful pressure on his neck and spine.


  • Show your dog a whole lot of affection every day. Affection has a positive effect on physical and mental health.


  • Always talk to your veterinarian before starting your dog on any sort of medication, even over-the-counter meds.

Sources and Citations

  1. Renal Effects of COX-2 Selective Inhibitors. Brater, Harries et al American Journal of Nephrology 2011: 21:1-15
  2. Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Manual. Donald Plumb. 7th edition. Publ: PharmaVet Inc.
  3. Obesity in Dogs and Cats: What is wrong with being fat? Laflamme D.P. Animal Science 2012 May; 90 (5):1653-62
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Categories: Canine Health