How to Help a Dog with Stiff Joints

November 2, 2015

stiff joints fredBy Laurie Darroch

Stiff joints in a dog can be caused by a variety of physical issues, or just simple aging. There are ways to help your dog achieve the best function and ambulation possible, as well as decrease the accompanying pain or discomfort.

Signs of Joint Pain

If your dog’s movement seems slower than normal, or they move in stiff awkward motions, they may be experiencing joint pain. Normal activities such as climbing the stairs or jumping up to a favorite resting spot may be difficult or even impossible. Obsessively licking a sore area, limping, swollen joints, resistance to normal physical activity, slow walking, or joints that are tender to your touch are all signs there is something amiss.


A gentle massage to the sore joints and surrounding areas can help loosen the stiffness your dog is experiencing. Some conditions may cause extreme joint pain. Check with your vet to make sure a massage is not going to damage your dog’s joints further. They can give you tips on how to do it effectively as well.

Medication and Supplements

If the cause of your dog’s joint pain warrants medication, your vet will help you decide what may be helpful for their particular condition. They may prescribe either a steroidal or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to bring down the swelling in and around the joint, or for extreme pain a narcotic to reduce the pain. They may also suggest a supplement such as one containing an Omega- 3 Fatty Acid. The point of these medications is to decrease the pain, improve their function and comfort, and help to treat the underlying cause of the joint pain and stiffness.


A high quality, premium pet food such as the CANIDAE PURE line is necessary to help keep a dog healthy and in good condition. Feeding your dog the wrong food or human food may contribute to obesity which can exacerbate joint problems. An overweight dog may experience more pain carrying around that extra weight. Keeping your dog at the correct weight can help reduce the pain and improve movement.


Dogs may be willing to sleep anywhere, including the hard floor, but a proper orthopedic dog bed may help your pet deal with some of the discomfort and stiffness of joint pain. Your dog will be more at ease on a bed that gives them support. Sleeping comfortably also makes moving around a little easier when they get up.

Look for an orthopedic bed that is large enough for your dog. Choose one that provides comfort, cushioning and support, not just a piece of fuzzy fabric for the floor. Do your research to find the one that suits your dog’s needs before you invest in a dog bed.


Although your dog may have been capable of jumping onto a bed or the couch, over obstacles or into the car, the pain and weakness that comes with joint pain can decrease those abilities. If your dog is too big to lift onto any of those surfaces, or you are not around all the time to help them get up and down, make or buy simple short steps or ramps that allow them to reach those surfaces without trying to make extreme jumps. Steps will make getting up and down from high surfaces easier for your dog and create less stress on their already painful joints.

siff joints davidExercise

Unless your vet tells you that too much motion is contraindicative to whatever is causing their joint pain, simple exercise is important to keep your dog’s joints moving. It is important to keep your dog active at whatever level they can manage. Just go for a short walk, or if they can handle it, a longer one to really get their joints and muscles moving. Talk with your vet to understand the limits of their particular problem. Too much exercise or the wrong type can cause more problems, but no exercise can make the situation worse too.

Alternative Treatments

In addition to traditional medications, therapies and treatments, alternative methods are available to help you deal with your dog’s joint pain and stiffness. Acupuncture is available for dogs; laser therapy can also help. However, do make sure these don’t undermine other treatments you and your vet are giving your dog.


In extreme cases such as hip dysplasia or severe osteoarthritis, your vet may suggest surgical options to alleviate your dog’s pain.

If your vet gives your dog a medical regimen, whether medication or exercise or a combination of the two, help them stick to it. You have to be the responsible care taker as well as a caring companion to help your dog live with or heal from the condition that gives him joint pain and discomfort.


You may have to adapt your dog’s surroundings to accommodate the changes from an injury, illness, or simply from aging. Take a good look around your home and watch your dog’s activities to see where movement may be difficult. Change what you need to in order to make it easier for them to function or get around with as little discomfort as possible.

Your once-agile dog may not be as active. Be patient and encouraging while helping them adapt. Work with your vet to make the situation as functional and comfortable for your dog as possible. Even with joint pain and stiffness, your dog can still have an active and fulfilling life.

Top photo by Fred Rockwood/Flickr
Bottom photo by David/Flickr

Read more articles by Laurie Darroch

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