Managing Your Dog's Mobility

What is dog joint pain and stiffness, and how can you help?

A step by step guide to understanding supporting dog joint health.

What affects joints and mobility in senior dogs?

Mobility can be affected by several conditions, here we focus on the most common cause.

Just like humans, animals’ joints change as they get older. It’s essential we understand these changes to the joints and develop an appropriate treatment plan to help.

Evolution of Arthritis in dogs. Cartilage Bone, Thinning of cartilage, Cartilage remnants, Destruction of cartilage


Changes to the joint:

  • Inflammation
  • Cartilage damage
  • Joint crepitus
  • Poor lubrication
  • Increased fibrous tissue

What are the signs associated with chronic joint pain?

Does your dog have difficulty rising after resting? Are they reluctant to run, jump and play? Are they sleeping more, slowing down on walks or are more irritable that usual?

Showing the signs of chronic pain in dogs, which are irritable, reluctant to run, jump or play, sleeping more, difficulty rising after rest, slowing down on walks

As an owner, you are an expert in your dog’s behaviour. You can help identify signs and assess how treatment is working by learning to spot the signs associated with chronic pain, particularly as dogs rarely vocalise pain.

Commonly recognised signs:

  • Limping
  • Less desire to walk or play
  • Slow/reluctant to rise from resting
  • Reluctance to jump

More subtle signs:

  • Avoiding slippery surfaces
  • Overgrown nails
  • Discomfort when stroked
  • Postural changes
  • Licking at their joints
  • Change of temperament

Don’t panic!

Mobility problems affect many dogs, 20% in dogs over 1 year old, and this rate significantly increases when a dog is over 6 years old.

1 in 5 dogs over one year old show signs of ostea-arthritis*

Fortunately, we have a good understanding of this condition and how to manage mobility issues. We recommend a range of methods to help support your dogs joints!


*Johnson JA,Austin C, BreurGJ. Incidence of canine appendicular musculoskeletal disorders in 16veterinary teaching hospitals from 1980 through 1989.Vet CompOrthop Trauma 7:56-69, 1994.

How to look after dogs with joint problems?

‘Chronic’ pain is not the same as ‘acute’ pain, the challenge is that overtime the body’s perception of the pain increases, in effect it becomes more sensitive to arthritic pain. Your vet is the best person to advise on pain control medications.

The initial aim is to reduce the level of discomfort so the body can regain its ‘normal’ response. This is only one part (albeit an important one) of the solution known as the ‘multi-modal’ approach to treatment

Weight & exercise control

  • Overweight dogs are at increased risk of developing mobility issues and the additional weight adds extra stress on the weakened joints
  • By reducing the weight bearing on the joints you also increase your pet’s ability to exercise
  • Gentle exercise is recommended to maintain a healthy range of motion, helping maintain muscle mass and preventing the build up of fibrous tissue that leads to stiffness
  • Try and prevent your pet from overdoing it, excessive running and jumping will not help, and they will often be in discomfort afterwards
  • There are foods available to assist your dogs to lose weight, your vet can recommend what will be best for your dog.

Brown dog running in the woods

Nutritional supplementation for dog joints

There are a huge range of nutritional supplements aimed at maintaining healthy joints. To ensure you give your pet pooch the best, here is a quick check list of what to look for when choosing a product that’s right for your dog: 

  • Ensure all the ingredients are ethically sourced, and of a high quality, manufactured to human food standards.
  • Look for a joint supplement that contains Omega 3 fatty acids - it’s the essential fatty acids that are shown to support the body’s own anti-inflammatory process and will help to manage your pets mobility
  • Always look for positive reviews from pet owners, and veterinary professionals – this is usually a good sign that the product works!
  • Look for a ‘money back guarantee’- it’s the companies promise to you that this product really works.
  • Make sure its palatable & easy to give to your four legged friend.

Home environment

Simple steps in the home can make a huge difference in how comfortable your dog is in day to day life. Consider making the following changes:

  • Non-slip mats for slippery floors – attractively designed with dogs in mind in a range of sizes
  • Ramps and steps for easier home accessibility – modern designs are lightweight & strong
  • Comfort of bedding – there is a large selection of comfortable beds, or memory foam
  • Raised drinking/feeding bowls
  • \Vehicle ramps for easy access - modern designs are lightweight & strong
  • Multi handled support harness
  • Location of bed/rest area – avoid draughts and complicated routes to bathroom areas

Complementary therapy

Most of these therapies require a vet to refer you or they may offer the services themselves. Once you have received expert advice you can often carryout simple things at home to provide ongoing support as your dog ages.

Complementary therapy ideas for dogs with joint pain

There are lots of ways you can support your pet’s mobility, many are the same ways you would manage aches and strains yourself from physiotherapy, massage techniques, hydrotherapy, laser therapy and acupuncture.

Make sure you find a practitioner registered with a recognised organisation.

A flexible care plan

Osteoarthritis in dogs is a complex degenerative disease, but there are many things you can do to maintain a happy health life for your dog. No one thing will act as a cure, but rather several things together add up to an improvement in their quality of life. Your dog is unique and how it responds to each treatment will differ.

By carefully observing changes in your dogs quality of life you can decide if things need changing, or whether what you are trying is working.

Care plan diagram: How is your dog?  Select care plan. Check for improvement Do we need to make changes?

The steps suggested in this presentation can be explored, and many vets offer expert advice on ‘multi-modal’ treatment.