How to help your arthritic dog at home - Alba Physiotherapy
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How to help your arthritic dog at home

How to help your Arthritic dog at home 

canine arthritis

It can be hard to manage your dog’s day to day life and we know there is no such thing as perfect, but we can make some great adaptations to our homes to make them safer and easier to navigate for our friends living with OA.!  It’s surprising how easy these adaptations are and how you can quickly introduce them to your home life.

ALBAs top 10 tips for home environment changes

Flooring  – What flooring do you have in your home?  Ideally we would like to be able to limit the amount of slippy flooring that your dogs walk over because their paws are not designed to navigate a slippery terrain. When you then add in the a biomechanical issue of muscle weakness or joint instability, they will find this 10 times harder to keep upright and steady.  We would LOVE it if there could be more carpeted or rugged areas throughout your home, because minimising slippy areas around the home minimises the risk of further injury through slips as we don’t want to cause further pain to an already compromised area of the body.

Stairs and steps Does your dog like to go upstairs? We know that our dogs love to be close to us and they may need to tackle stairs in order to be with us.  Stairs can be really challenging for dogs, especially if they have arthritis. This is because stairs may challenge the areas of the body that suffer pain during movement – mainly the joints of the limbs. Stairs can also be a potential accident hazard – one that is more real because the motions of the arthritic dog are not always adequately controlled.  It may come to a point that you need to restrict access to steps and stairs and install ramps for certain areas.

Navigating doorways – Although doorways look easy to use for dogs, a dog with arthritis has to be able to use enough momentum and strength to clear a door that may have a height at the bottom even if just a few inches. If you door has slippy flooring on one side this can potentially put them off balance when their foot meets the ground on the other side, so having mats on either side of the threshold can beneficial for extra grip when walking through a doorway 

Trip hazards Can you minimise trip hazards? We are definitely not insinuating you are a messy homeowner, but sometimes if we have children or other animals living in the house, small objects such as shoes, toys, wire, edges of carpets can be present and these can be hard for a dog to navigate. Making sure their pathway is as clear as possible allows them to move freely. 

Garden space and toiletingOutside areas – how clear is your garden? Are your dogs able to navigate the area without tripping up on any garden accessories or equipment?  Gardens come in all shapes and sizes and also come with different terrains, inclines and declines and not to mention all types of weather up here in the Scottish Highlands! Even though we cannot control the weather (Cara says begrudgingly), we can keep our gardens as tidy as possible and, if needed, block areas off that may be hard to navigate for our dogs. If you have and slippy decking, loose areas of paving, gravel, stairs/steps and slopes that can be slippy it could be worth blocking these areas off.

Sleeping areas and beddingEveryone’s sleeping routines and rituals are very different and personal to the individual. You, as an owner know how your dog sleeps the best. You know what type and size your dog’s bed needs to be. Sometimes a soft bed may do the trick for your dog and sometimes they may need something a bit firmer to help them get to their feet whilst providing support and comfort. The most important factor is that an optimal amount of rest and sleep helps to “repair” the body in the night! Make it the best place to be and make it even harder to get out of bed in the morning. Keep sleeping areas clear. Keeping areas clear means that if you dog needs to move in the night then when the lights are off they won’t be falling over obstacles in the dark. This also helps when they get up/lay down as they don’t have to navigate too much and in turn are not tripping.

Food and water accessIf your dog suffers from arthritis it is more likely to have problems in other areas of the body. This is because depending on where the main area of arthritis is, other areas will need to pick up the strain and work harder. For example if your dog has hip arthritis it will need to work hard at the front end and will get a stiff neck and shoulders. In physiotherapy, we call these compensations. Because of this we would advise keeping food and drink at elbow height to make it much more comfortable and stable. It is important to note that large breeds however can get gastric problems with raised bowls so it is best to raise water bowls and use a slow feeder for food

Other dogs, inside and outside the homeLiving with other companions is fantastic, but for a dog with OA, they may find that sometimes they will have to play catch up with a younger dog . Sometimes dogs that are unsteady and weaker can often feel threatened.  Being natural predators, if they cannot get up and move as quickly as they used to, they could panic. Another consideration is that even little amounts of play can be hard for dogs with advanced OA to carry out. So while its great for your dogs to play together, keep an eye on your dog with OA and perhaps treat them to a little one on one attention and slow play down. 

Travelling A lot of the time we want to get out and about, but getting our dogs in and out of the car can be troublesome.  What we want to avoid is them jumping in and out of cars that are a high height from the ground.  Lifting them in and out, or the use of a ramp can be beneficial. For a dog to sit in, the car can be very irregular on the body as it requires uncontrolled movement and a certain level of balance is needed to be able to control the body in line with the movement of the car.  It is good practice to make sure that the area your dog sits in the car is optimally padded. This means they have something to lean and lay on. 

Heat Therapy Heat therapy helps by causing the dilation (opening) of blood vessels causing blood flow to be increased to an area. This stimulates the removal of harmful chemicals that can sit in the bloodstream and return more nutrient rich and oxygenated blood flow to an injured tissue. This is very beneficial to tissues that are chronically injured. It also aids stiffness and allows joints and muscles to become more fluid and elastic, heat also gives an analgesic effect which allows the body to decrease a pain sensation.

We hope we have helped you learn a few ways in which you can make simple choices to help your dog at home. As always if you have any questions or are looking for advice please feel free to send us a message or give us a quick phone.


Brid Walsh

Brid Walsh

Brid qualified in 2004 with a BSC Honours Degree in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Limerick, Ireland. In evaluating her future path, she spent a summer in Alaska with the Hope Foundation supporting disabilities of various sorts. Her further work experience in the Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin convinced her that Physiotherapy was the direction she wished to specialise in. In 2007 she subsequently qualified from the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen with an MSC in Physiotherapy.
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