Important Note: This article has been checked and verified by a professional veterinarian for accuracy. However, you should always seek advice from your own vet before making any decisions on euthanasia as there are never black and white answers for this decision.
Seeing your arthritic dog change from an active and happy hound to one that struggles to walk and is in obvious pain is heart-breaking. It can mean you having to make a tough decision on whether or not to euthanize your dog with arthritis. But should you do it? And when is it the right time to put your dog down?
When to put down a dog with arthritis? Vets might advise you to euthanize a dog when it can no longer walk and is in obvious pain with even the slightest of movements. Being unable to move is life-threatening, and it could be in the dog’s best interests to have it put down. However, each case is different, so consult with your vet.
However, that’s not always going to be the case, and it’s something you should talk with your own vet about before deciding whether to go down the euthanasia route.
When to euthanize a dog with arthritis
There is no easy answer for when to put your arthritic dog down, but often it really is the kindest thing to do. However, when it comes to the best to put them down, it can vary on a case to case basis.
Your veterinarian will often be able to give you a far more personalised and accurate summary of your dog’s condition and when it may be the time to say goodbye. Speaking to a professional is a must.
This can be one of the hardest parts of any dog owner’s life, but when is it time to put down your dog suffering from arthritis? And, if your dog has just been diagnosed, is it necessarily a death sentence?
When is it time to put down a dog with arthritis?
Arthritis in older dogs is actually rather common, with around 20% of dogs suffering from it in one form or another (see source). As dogs get older, the risks increase to a 65% chance once your dog is 7 years and older.
Even if your dog isn’t necessarily that old, illnesses like diabetes, fungal infections, osteochondrosis, and even past injuries can also trigger arthritis.
Often found in the hips, knees, elbows and the lower back, inflammation of the joints is caused by the soft cartilage around the bone wearing away and causing the bones to rub together, causing major discomfort and pain for your dog.
Symptoms of arthritis include limping, joint stiffness, a sudden lack of interest in exercising or physical activities, weight gain and changes in appetite, sleeping and general behaviour.
While arthritis cannot necessarily be cured and can continue as a long-term health condition, medical treatment can be taken to alleviate the symptoms once arthritis is diagnosed.
Over time, some dogs’ arthritis can worsen to the point where pain is very severe even when walking around, but even at this late stage it could have been prevented through early intervention.
Dogs with arthritis that are euthanised are typically those who cannot move anymore, or who move very little because of the pain in their joints. This is the best time to put down a dog with arthritis due to suffering and poor quality of life.
While it is undoubtedly the hardest part of being a pet owner, sometimes the decision has to be made. It is usually elected after assessing their quality of life, deciding whether it is kinder to let them continue on in their current and often worsening state, and before things get any worse.
How do I know if my dog is in pain from arthritis?
We often wish dogs could tell us what is on their mind, and that couldn’t be more true when they are suffering from an illness or long-term condition. We often can’t know exactly how much pain a dog is in, and although vets can give a general estimation of pain in a medical sense, it’s not always possible to know if your dog is in pain from arthritis.
However, there are definitely some signs for which you should look out.
Dogs let us know they are in pain through changes in their behaviour and their body language. Spotting any changes in their behaviour could help you identify if there is anything concerning about your dog’s health.
If you are concerned about your dog potentially developing arthritis, it is important to keep an eye out for early symptoms, which include:
- Leg and joint stiffness: especially after exercise, walks, and prolonged rests.
- Weight loss and weak muscles: often at the back and around their hips. This muscle wasting is caused by a lack of exercise due to their not wanting to move around because of the pain it causes them.
- Sleeping more: being less interested in exercise or movement. This is because of the pain in their joints, which rub together when moved.
- Licking or nursing joints: you may also notice salivary stains around leg joints and other affected areas.
- Swollen areas around joints: if you notice any swelling around a joint, it could be arthritis.
- Slower walking: as well as climbing stairs and not wanting to jump up.
How long can a dog live with arthritis?
Arthritis is not fatal in itself, especially since it is usually just joint inflammation and worn cartilage. As mentioned earlier, around 20% of dogs suffer from arthritis in their lifetime, and your dog developing arthritis is not necessarily a death sentence.
Some dogs who develop arthritis can live a long time with medical and natural treatments. Most dogs with arthritis are likely to pass away from other causes before severe arthritis sets in.
If you have a dog with confirmed arthritis and are worried about their quality of life or possibly shortened lifespan, please speak to your vet. They will be able to offer advice and recommendations of prescribed and over the counter medications, supplements, and other remedies.
What home remedy can I give my dog for arthritis?
While a medical diagnosis of arthritis comes with its own prescribed medications from your vet, there are several freely available home and ‘natural’ remedies either available over the counter or done through simple changes to your dog’s lifestyle.
- Exercise: even though exercise and moving about can cause pain to joints affected by arthritis, you shouldn’t stop altogether. Low-impact exercises and short walks should be kept up as a way of entertaining your dog and keeping them healthy. Swimming is a great alternative because weight is lifted off of the joints while still allowing pets to burn off energy. Your vet may be able to recommend an exercise regimen suitable for your dog.
- Omega 3: these fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in the joints and help your dog’s immune system. These acids can be found in fish oil, fish or phytoplankton, all of which are available for purchase from vet’s office, pharmacies, and pet stores. Also, keep an eye on how much omega-6 acids your dog is ingesting, as these fatty acids can cause inflammation is not properly balanced.
- Vitamins C and E: high doses of both vitamin C and E can help with arthritis and can act as an anti-inflammatory, with the recommended amount being around 100 IU (small dogs), 200 IU (medium dogs) or 400 IU (large dogs) per day.
- Sodium ascorbate powder: can be bought suitable for both humans and dogs, containing high amounts of vitamin C and soluble in water for easy consumption. Please consult your vet before using this, however, as overuse can have negative effects.
- Cranberries, Blueberries and Goji berries: these are great, healthy treats for your dog and contain large amounts of both vitamins C and E, as well as high levels of calcium and iron.
- Anti-Inflammatories: arthritis is caused by the inflammation of joints as the soft cartilage surrounding the bones wears away. Because of this, anti-inflammatories are an important part of treatment.
Anti-inflammatories you could try include fresh and raw pineapple. This fruit is a great source of bromelain, an anti-inflammatory enzyme. Canned pineapple, however, can contain large amounts of sugar and should be avoided.
You could also try arnica. This is a yellow-blossomed alpine plant often made into tea, tincture or massage oil. Using it externally on joints and other areas affected by arthritis can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
Comfrey could also be used externally on joints or sore areas. Other herbs such as Boswellia, ginger, liquorish root and turmeric can all be taken internally in either capsules or mixed into food.
Should you walk a dog with arthritis?
As mentioned above, while arthritis can cause pain to the joints when moving around, you shouldn’t stop your dog’s daily exercises altogether. Exercise is an important part of your dog’s life, helping keep him fit, healthy, and occupied since bored dogs tend to act up in order to burn off their excess energy.
By doing so, you could extend how long your dog lives and prolong the period before you need to think about putting down your dog with arthritis.
When your dog has arthritis, you should still walk them often but take them for shorter walks. It is best to keep to a set schedule as well. While many people believe that exercise just causes more damage to the joints, continued exercise can actually help keep the joints moving.
If you are worried that your dog’s arthritis is making walks incredibly difficult, swimming is a great activity that keeps weight off of the joints and encourages them to move their legs far more than through painful walking.
If your dog is also struggling to move around the house because of their joint pain, then consider using ramps up small stairs, onto couches, or into cars so they do not have to jump up and experience pain.
Please Note: According to studies and the vet we spoke to, dogs do not feel pain when they are put down.
At the start of this article, I explained how my aunt had to make the decision on when the best time to euthanize her own dog with arthritis was.
Her English Bulldog was in stage 4 and was progressively getting worse. It got to the point where he was in pain even when he was lying down. He had been given medication up to this point, but this was the decider for her.
It was a tough decision, but when he started yelping and whimpering even when not in motion, she knew it was time to put her dog down.
Like many creatures in the later stages of their life, your faithful dog may have begun to develop arthritis. This inflammation of the joints causes discomfort and pain from day-to-day activities.
Over time, the condition can worsen in dogs and other animals to the point where you may be having to make the awful decision of relieving their pain through euthanasia.