When your dog wakes up in the morning, is she a bit slower to move? Does she seem sore? Does she walk down the stairs more carefully, or is there less bounce in her step as your head outside for a daily walk? Your dog may be exhibiting signs of arthritis, a common inflammation of the joints that affects middle-aged and senior dogs and certain dog breeds. Unfortunately, arthritis can be a painful condition for your pup made even more difficult when winter arrives and temperatures drop. With knowledge and help, you can find practical ways to treating arthritis in your dog this winter.

Dog runs through the snow.

What is arthritis in dogs?

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that is typically a natural, age-related condition. This chronic and progressive disease can occur in different forms, primarily:

  • Primary osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease (DJD), the most common type in dogs and people, where the wear-and-tear of cartilage in the joints results in inflammation and pain;
  • Secondary osteoarthritis, common particularly to canines, is connected with congenital conditions or injuries where a joint injury or misalignment has caused the premature wearing down of cartilage in joints; dogs with hip or elbow dysplasia often display this type of arthritis.

Regardless of the source of arthritis, the resulting stiff joints, discomfort, and pain may not only impact your dog’s activity levels but also change her personality and quality of life.

What are the signs of arthritis in dogs?

Arthritis can affect any dog, any age, and any breed, but it may manifest itself in different ways amongst these groups. Generally, the main signs of arthritis in dogs are:

  • Slowness to get up from a sitting or lying position
  • Reluctance to walk up or down stairs
  • Disinclination to play or exercise
  • Limping or hopping
  • Lameness
  • Vocalization (in advanced cases)
  • Changes in personality (in advanced cases)

Every dog is individual; thus, every dog may react to arthritic pain and discomfort differently. Some dogs will go off on their own while others will become more clingy and demanding of your attention. Take notice of any changes in your dog’s behavior and speak with your veterinarian about whether arthritis is the cause.

Why does cold weather make arthritis worse?

Arthritis is tough on any pup, but what is it about winter that makes this condition worse? There are a few possible reasons for increased arthritic stiffness and pain when the temperatures fall. 

First, the drop in atmospheric air pressure causes pain in joints. When the pressure decreases, tissues swell and become inflamed. The result is increased tension between the joints, which means more pain.

Another potential reason for higher levels of arthritic pain is that cold temperatures cause pain receptors to become more sensitized. This condition magnifies the pain your dog feels typically in her joints.

Muscles around the joints tend to stiffen in the cold, which also makes them more susceptible to spasms. Both of these factors lead to more pain and stiffness in the joints.

Finally, pet parents are less likely to spend time outside in cold weather, which means their dogs get less time outdoors. Joint pain can be alleviated when arthritic dogs are on the move, warming up their muscles and combatting joint stiffness. An inactive pup may also put on extra pounds over the winter, and heavier weight will only make the pressure on the joints, and joint pain, worse.

German Shepherd taken out for a walk.

What can you do to help your arthritic dog in winter?

There are a variety of steps that you can take to lessen your dog’s arthritic pain when temperatures grow colder. Consider adding these steps to a winter treatment plan for your pup:

1. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Despite the cold weather, make a point to walk your dog at least once, and preferably twice, daily. Moving and stretching those muscles will make your dog feel better, make those muscles stronger, and relieve stiffness in the joints. In extreme weather conditions, work to keep your dog moving inside your home with fun games and training exercises. Consider indoor doggie classes or physical or hydrotherapy opportunities to keep your pup moving during the winter months.

2. Joint supplements and non-steroidal, natural anti-inflammatory supplements are proven methods that may ease your pup’s discomfort and pain. Look for supplements that support cartilage production and protect existing cartilage from wearing down, especially those that include glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and omega-3 fatty acids. Speak with your veterinarian about which supplement is right for your dog, or whether your dog would respond better to pain medications.

3. Maintain a healthy weight for your dog, depending upon her age, stature, and current health status. If your dog is already overweight, design a safe weight loss program with your veterinarian. Extra weight puts more pressure on the muscles and joints, so maintenance or weight reduction if needed are ways to keep your pet moving with less pain.

Bully breed lying on the stairs.

4. Heated beds and blankets can ease your dog’s muscles and joints, making it a bit easier for your dog to move and stand up on a cold morning. There are many self-reflected heating beds or ones that contain removable heaters explicitly designed to support ageing, arthritic dogs.

5. For dogs with advanced arthritis, added assistance from a dog ramp, dog stairs, or a dog support sling or harness make it less painful for your dog to get up stairs, get into bed, or hop into the car. 

6. Consider alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, therapeutic massage, or physical therapy that can aid your dog in the fight against arthritis. Your veterinarian will have recommendations for clinics and practitioners in these areas.

With these suggestions, you can put together a plan to keep your dog moving and as pain-free as possible this winter, no matter how cold it gets.

Take care of your arthritic dog this winter

No matter the season, arthritis has a significant impact on any dog’s quality of life. Winter tends to take a harder toll on arthritic canines, but you can make a difference for your pup. By carefully observing your dog, speaking with your veterinarian, and adopting the right approaches, you can ensure that your dog doesn’t suffer as much from arthritis this winter.
 

References:

  1. Marcellin-Little, D. (2020). Managing canine osteoarthritis in all stages and ages. Retrieved from https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/osteoarthritis-june-2020/
  2. DVM360. (2015). Managing osteoarthritis in dogs (Proceedings). Retrieved from https://www.dvm360.com/view/managing-osteoarthritis-dogs-proceedings
  3. Morris Animal Foundation. (2020). Hip Dysplasia --- Understanding a Common and Challenging Orthopedic Disease in Dogs. Retrieved from https://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org/article/hip-dysplasia-understanding-common-and-challenging-orthopedic-disease-dogs
  4. Hinds, N. (2020). 19 Tips to Get Your Dog Indoor Exercise in Winter. Retrieved from https://www.k9ofmine.com/dog-indoor-exercise-in-winter/
  5. College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Services, Texas A&M University. (2018). Canine arthritis And Your Dog’s Best Defence --- Weight Loss. Retrieved from https://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/canine-arthritis-and-your-dogs-best-defence-weight-loss/96695