Treat A Dog’s Arthritis: Diet, Massage, Vitamin E, Acupuncture and More

X-ray of Dog with Spinal Arthritis

Canine X-ray Showing Vertebral Inflammation

Arthritis is inflammation of a joint. There can be many causes of this inflammation such as infection, crystal deposition, hereditary factors, injury or a misdirected immune system. All of them involve pain and structural changes in the joint itself.

Arthritis is a common ailment in middle-aged to older pets, just as it is in middle-aged to older humans. And, as people can successfully function for decades with arthritis, there are ways to manage this condition in order to keep your pet moving comfortably. This post will outline four treatment types that you can use and/or combine to treat a dog’s arthritis.

Limping, reluctance to move and increased irritability due to the pain are all possible symptoms of this condition. You may see deformation in your dog’s back or hips. Increased licking or biting of the affected region can also be a symptom.

Any of these symptoms are a reason to take your buddy to the vet. If the vet agrees that it may be arthritis, they can take an X-ray and confirm the inflammation in the affected joints.

Not just arthritis, but dysplasia, a bulging disk, a pinched nerve and other physical causes can produce the same symptoms as arthritis. The treatments described below can help these dogs as well.

Diet and Movement

Diet is the first thing to address. Keeping your dog slim can decrease pain by reducing the load on the joints. Feed a good high protein, no-grain food. See the post on feeding tips.

In general, it helps to keep the joint warm and supported. If your dog has arthritis, treat them to a comfy orthopedic bed!

That being said, ice can help reduce swelling produced by exercise. When your dog has arthritis, they will find ways to use the affected joint less often. When they play hard or work, they will strain those unused muscles and further inflame that arthritic joint.

Start by applying ice for as little as five minutes. If you have a dog that doesn’t like the ice, those will be 5 of the longest minutes of your life! My experience, however, is that they appreciate the comfort and numbing that the ice provides.

Swimming GSD

GSD Retrieving a Board in Water

When it comes to physical exercise, swimming is by far the best. Swimming is a zero-impact activity. It exercises all your dog’s muscle groups and builds cardiovascular endurance. It also stretches and lengthens their bodies, which can improve their posture.

Dogs are inefficient swimmers though, so swimming is VERY tiring, especially if your dog is not used to it. Start with a five-minute session and add a minute or two each session. Apply ice to their inflamed joint afterward and watch them for the next day or so for signs of additional discomfort.

Physical Therapies

Cat Massaging a Dog

Cat Massaging a Dog

First, yes there is physical therapy for dogs. Google “dog physical therapy near me” to find out who in your area offers this service. They will have special equipment and techniques that can stretch your dog’s muscles and strengthen the ones that have grown weak through lack of use. Physical therapy can help your dog feel stronger, move better and be safer.

While you are at it, Google “dog massage near me”. Massage has the same benefits for your dog that it has for you, including stimulating the lymphatic system, reducing stress, increasing blood flow and improving flexibility.

I have taken 2 classes in canine massage as part of my work in canine search and rescue. You may be able to find classes in your area. It’s a great feeling to be able to directly make your dog feel better and it will definitely improve your bond.

Medicines / Supplements

One possible cause of arthritis is chronic inflammation. Vitamin E is a good antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplement for German Shepherd Dogs in particular, though good for all dogs. I’ve always given Vitamin E to my dogs.

And fish oil. Fish oil contains Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids which can provide many benefits. Fish oil is the only supplement that I personally regularly take, so I share its benefits with my dogs.

In addition to their anti-inflammatory properties, both Vitamin E and fish oil are oil-based supplements which can help your dog’s skin and coat look their best.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin are supplements that are also available for dogs. If you are taking these supplements yourself, you can share the same ones with your dog. Ask your vet about dosing.

You can also find several vendors that offer these supplements specifically designed for dogs. Frequently they will also contain MSM and Hyaluronic Acid, 2 supplements which may aid your dog’s joint cartilage. I find it interesting to notice that most of these vendors originally developed their formulas for horses, and then went on to adapt them to dogs.

A Pair of Vials of Adequan Canine

A Pair of Vials of Adequan Canine

Adequan inhibits enzymes that break down cartilage within your dog’s joints. It soothes and lubricates an inflames joint in addition to increasing the thickness of joint (synovial) fluid. You will definitely have to talk with your veterinarian about Adequan because you will need a prescription.

Adequan has been used with horses for decades without side effects. It is injected into the muscle next to the affected joint and travels to the joint itself. The cheapest route is to not buy it from your vet, but online. Then you can inject it yourself. Most vets are cooperative with this idea and will have a vet tech show you how to administer the shot.

You can also give your dog Deramaxx, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Think of it as Ibuprofen for dogs. Like human NSAID’s, it reduces pain and inflammation. Also like humans, dogs with sensitive tummies may have trouble with it and I definitely recommend giving it with food. You will also need to talk to your vet about Deramaxx.

Alternative Treatments

“Four Paws, Five Directions” by Cheryl Schwarz is an introduction to traditional Chinese medicine — for dogs and cats. This book has many suggestions for things you can do to keep your dog healthy and happy in general. I really enjoyed this book.

To me, the most important take away is to note the time of day and even the season of the year when you notice your dog doing anything unusual.

Chiropractic. Yes, there are chiropractors for dogs. But be careful when you look for this service. Depending on where you live, many of the so-called dog chiropractors are only trained in human chiropractic and they use a hand-held mechanical adjusting device.

Canine Acupuncture for the Back and Hips

Canine Acupuncture for the Back and Hips

Personally, I would only ever take my dog to someone who possessed sufficient knowledge of canine physiology to use their hands for adjustments. Look for a vet that has been certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

Odds are, when you find one, they will also be certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. Yes, acupuncture is also available to relieve your dog’s arthritis pain. Whenever I have used such services in the past, I have always let the vet decide which treatment to apply rather than asking for one or the other.


In this post, I have only been able to touch on the many different ways you can treat a dog’s arthritis.

As you can tell, there is no one treatment that will magically eliminate the inflammation and restore your dog’s joint to its original condition. Much of what I’ve described here provides comfort and healing for a dog with a condition that they will live with for the rest of their lives. The point is that the symptoms of arthritis CAN be managed and your dog CAN live more comfortably as the result of your efforts.

Two more recent ideas should at least be mentioned.

Cold Laser Therapy, or Low-Level Laser Therapy, is a relatively recent tool that has been added to our arsenal. Used on humans for decades, it is now available for your dog as well. As the name implies, it uses a low-level hand-held laser to repair damaged tissue, reduce pain, reduce inflammation and reduce healing time. My experience is that while I was convinced it provided short-term relief, I don’t know that it provided long-term improvement in my dog’s condition.

Last, and perhaps least, we now have Stem Cell Therapy as an option. This is the only treatment in this post that I have not used. In my mind, the jury is still out on this technique. Some dogs have responded well, some have relapsed after a short period and some have been unaffected. Currently, this treatment costs thousands of dollars.


  1. Sanders

    Great article about arthritis. Most of what you wrote about is true for all us animals, not just dogs.
    The growth in veterinarian services is amazing, as more non-traditional massage, acupuncture and chiropractic type services are added.
    I have used Deramaxx for several of my older dogs and giving with food is recommended. The biggest problem is getting my guys to take the tablet. I’ve tried the pill hide things from Petsmart, my Sophie and spit it out. I think she laughed at me when I tried again. You actually give fish oil tablets and your dog accepts them? What is the secret?

    • Matthew

      Hi Sanders,

      Glad you like the article. As someone who was diagnosed with early onset rheumatoid arthritis myself, I knew these treatments work for us humans too. Just started thinking about acupuncture for my wrist.

      I was lucky with my last purebred GSD. He took the Deramaxx like a treat. But toward the end of his life, he contracted the canine equivalent of MRSA. He was on antibiotics for so long that he refused to take any kind of pill. I tried cheese, hot dog pieces, Pill Pockets and finally Braunschweiger (Liverwurst). Of course, only the most expensive solution, the Braunschweiger, actually worked. Well, I guess he was a German German Shepherd after all!

      My current dog will leave either the fish oil or the Vitamin E behind every now and then. I started adding a bit of olive oil to hide the taste. That’s working. At least for now! I do know people that pierce the fish oil gel tab and squeeze it out onto the food, but I haven’t tried that one myself. Good luck!


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