People with arthritis know firsthand that cold weather worsens their pain and stiffness. The same is true for dogs as cold weather can make a dog’s arthritis symptoms worse. Theories about why this happens include changes in barometric pressure, increased nerve sensitivity, and decreased activity levels, but no clear cause is known. There are, however, clear steps you can take to keep your arthritic dog more comfortable in winter.
Arthritis in Dogs
Canine arthritis is a chronic, progressive disease in which the cartilage between the joints degenerates, causing pain, stiffness and swelling. The most common form of arthritis for both dogs and humans is osteoarthritis. Dogs are most likely to experience arthritis in their weight-bearing joints, such as the shoulders, hips, ankles, knees and spine. Arthritis can occur in dogs of any age, but occurs most commonly in older dogs.
Reducing the Impacts of Arthritis in Dogs
If your dog suffers from arthritis, there are a variety of ways to help soothe their pain or prevent it in the first place.
Manage Your Dog’s Weight
People and their furry best friends tend to move a little less and eat a little more in winter. It’s never a good idea to let your dog’s weight creep higher, but it’s especially important to keep him at a healthy weight if he is arthritic. Joint pain and stiffness are worse when carrying extra pounds. Talk to your veterinarian about helping your dog reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Heat vs. Cold
While cold weather can make your dog’s arthritic symptoms worse, the local application of both heat and cold can help your dog’s arthritis symptoms, depending on the issue. While heat (like a heating pad) can reduce pain, joint stiffness and muscle spasms, cold (like an ice pack) can limit acute pain and the production of inflammatory chemicals. Consult your vet as to which option they recommend for your dog.
Keep Your Dog Warm — Indoors and Out
During cold winter walks, arthritic dogs (especially those with shorter coats) require dog jackets to prevent the worsening of symptoms. Many will also benefit from wearing comfortable dog sweaters or coats indoors as well, especially if you keep the thermostat low or your dog makes his den in a drafty spot.
Give Your Dog a Comfortable Place to Rest
A comfortable dog bed, preferably one designed to support aging, arthritic joints, is also a must for dogs with arthritis. If he relocates a lot, consider providing him with several comfortable, supportive spots around the house. And give him a dog blanket to snuggle with for extra warmth if needed.
Keep Your Dog Moving
No matter the weather, your arthritic dog needs exercise throughout the winter to keep his joints lubricated and moving. Keep it low-impact and don’t overdo it: take him on easy walks multiple times a day. If winter weather is an issue, walk with him around your home or find an indoor “dog gym” near you. Keep in mind that slippery ice and snow are particularly tough on the joints of arthritic dogs, so walk only on cleared paths.
Give Your Dog A Lift
Joint pain makes it tough for dogs to climb onto the bed to snuggle, or into the car for an adventure. Dog ramps and dog stairs can help your dog reach his favorite spots.
Prescription Medication and Alternative Therapies
The most common prescription medications used to lessen arthritis pain in dogs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Talk to your veterinarian about medications, but keep in mind they are not a substitute for weight loss and exercise.
Less traditional treatment options, including acupuncture, physical therapy, therapeutic massage and water therapy, can also offer relief. Be sure to discuss these treatments with your veterinarian, who can recommend qualified practitioners.
If your dog has arthritis, these few extra measures will help him when the weather gets frosty, and allow you both to enjoy life to the fullest through every season.