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You’ve probably heard the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

This is a myth because you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! But if your dog is in pain, they may not want to learn these new tricks. Really you should be asking yourself: Why won’t my dog try and learn new tricks?

It may be the result of a joint disease called “osteoarthritis.” One in four dogs in the Unites States, not all of them old, suffers from some type of Arthritis. Osteoarthritis, or arthritis in dogs, is a degenerative joint disease and by far the most common.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints slowly breaks down, leading to pain, swelling, and decreased mobility.

The American College of Veterinary Surgeons says that with proper treatment, “many dogs can live comfortably for years following a diagnosis,” although osteoarthritis is progressive, getting worse over time. Finding the proper treatment that helps prevent and manage the joint pain is critical to the quality of life of your canine companion.

What Dogs Are Most at Risk?

Although this disease is seen especially in older dogs, any dog can develop osteoarthritis. The AKC Canine Health Foundation reports that certain dogs are more likely to develop this condition.

Those predisposed include large and giant breeds, obese dogs, senior dogs, dogs that have suffered injuries such as fractures or ligament tears, dogs lacking proper nutrition, and those with congenital joint disorders such as hip or elbow dysplasia.

Activity levels of some competitive sporting and working dogs can affect joint cartilage and risks for arthritis. Also, infections such as Lyme disease can cause the onset of arthritis, as can metabolic diseases such as diabetes and Cushing’s disease.

How to Recognize Osteoarthritis in Your Dog

Some dogs have shown signs of arthritis as early as when they’re one-year-old, and veterinarians report that as many as 80 percent of senior dogs display symptoms. Your dog may be developing osteoarthritis, according to Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer, if you observe any of these signs:

  • Stiffness, lameness, or limping after lying down.
  • Reluctance to walk up stairs, run, jump, or play.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Lethargy
  • Sudden irritability when touched or petted.
  • Loss of muscle mass in the rear limbs
  • Difficulty with urinating or sudden accidents in the house.

When you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to take your dog to the veterinarian for a full checkup. The vet will conduct a physical exam, talk to you about what you’ve observed, and may request additional tests to investigate any affected joints.

Treatments for Osteoarthritis in Dogs

If arthritis is diagnosed, the vet will recommend a plan to manage the condition and minimize pain, depending on the dog’s age and the severity of the disease. For dogs that may be predisposed to arthritis, veterinarians may suggest starting preventative treatment at an early age to protect young joints and treat them ongoing as a dog ages.

Similar to treatments in humans, management plans for dogs may include trying several different therapies simultaneously: joint supplements, weight management, activity modification, low-impact exercise, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture, and sometimes surgery.

Joint supplements are one of the most common long-term, safe treatments recommended to help reduce inflammation and pain, improve function, and slow progression of joint damage and arthritis. Supplements for humans and dogs commonly include glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as green-lipped mussel (GLM).


Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound used to alleviate pain and stiffness by suppressing inflammation in the arthritic joint, inhibiting cartilage degradation, and boosting the repair of damaged cartilage. Unlike NSAIDS, glucosamine has proven safe for long-term use, so a joint supplement containing glucosamine can be helpful as an early intervention for dogs predisposed to osteoarthritis, as well as a treatment for dogs suffering from progressive joint damage.


Chondroitin sulfate is another natural substance aimed at stimulating cartilage repair and is often used in conjunction with glucosamine. Chondroitin reduces pain, improves joint function and mobility, and reduces arthritis progression. Chondroitin sulfate can be obtained from many sources, such as fish, pigs, cattle, birds, and sharks.

Green Lipped Mussel (GLM)

An extract derived from green-lipped mussels, native to New Zealand, is another proven joint supplement ingredient for humans and dogs. GLM contains beneficial nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which have natural anti-inflammatory and joint-protecting properties. Studies have shown that combined with glucosamine and chondroitin, it can help decrease pain and preserve joint function.

Joint Supplements: What to Look For

When you look for a joint supplement for your dog that contains the joint health building blocks of glucosamine, chondroitin, and GLM, it’s important to focus on:

1. Ingredients

Many products use the ingredients of glucosamine and chondroitin, but look for ones that include scientifically proven levels of key ingredients to have the best chance of relieving joint pain and maintaining healthy joints.

2. Manufacturing and product requirements

Choose products manufactured to the highest pharmaceutical quality standards.

3. Dosage

Follow the dosage instructions provided on the supplement packaging. Some supplements will have you start your dog at a higher dosage initially and taper down.

4. Taste and smell

Most dogs will readily eat supplements that come in the form of a treat or chew. Other supplements may be in a pill form that you’ll have to administer. Pill-hiding treats or other soft foods your dog really enjoys, like cheese, can help hide pill-form supplements.

Protecting your dog’s joints with the right supplement is an ongoing, daily commitment that will help ensure a good quality of life, while you enjoy that irreplaceable companionship in life’s adventures that your dog provides.
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Life with a Senior Dog

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