Preparing Your Senior Dog For Winter: Osteoarthritis Edition
I am one of those people who feel the cold easily and often have layers upon layers of clothing to keep myself warm and comfortable. When and if I don’t, I definitely feel my muscles and joints ache at the end of the day from being tense and shivering to raise my body temperature.
Dogs experience the cold very similar to us, particularly short-coated dogs. Add old age and arthritis, and it becomes difficult for some dogs to stay warm during the cooler months.
Keep reading to learn about some simple things you can do to keep your osteoarthritic dog comfortable this winter.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that commonly affects humans and dogs. It is characterised by loss of articular cartilage in a joint [1, 2, 6]. In dogs, joints typically affected are the elbow, hip and stifle joints but can also appear in the carpus and intervertebral joints.
Canine osteoarthritis can have a variety of causes that include age, genetics, conformation and lifestyle factors such as repetitive movement, surgical intervention, trauma and obesity. Symptoms observed in dogs with osteoarthritis include discomfort, joint stiffness, loss of strength, limited limb function and impaired proprioception [1, 6].
How does cold weather affect your dog’s joints?
A popular belief that applies to both humans and dogs is that cold weather increases joint pain for those suffering from joint disease like osteoarthritis. However, research surrounding this topic appears to be inconclusive.
Let's look at the few potential reasons behind it!
1. Barometric pressure
Air pressure tends to drop when the weather turns colder. This can lead to swelling or stiffening of musculoskeletal tissue, which inhibits mobility and makes moving more painful [6, 9]. It is also possible that the nerves are more sensitised to changes in pressure . For dogs with existing joint pain, the result could be much more difficult to manage compared to animals not suffering from osteoarthritis.
A 2007 study investigated the effects of cold weather in mice with induced arthritis in the knee joint. The subjects were exposed to one hour of low temperature (10 degrees Celsius) and looked at two parameters: blood flow and pain sensitivity. The results concluded that pain sensitivity had increased in the knee joints of mice exposed to cold temperatures .
Conversely, a study of humans with lower back pain looked at the relationship between the increase of acute lower back pain and temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind gust, wind speed, wind precipitation and direction. The study found there was generally no association between the onset of back pain and weather changes .
What does this tell us?
Changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature are independently associated with osteoarthritis pain severity.
2. Reduced activity
Most of us are guilty for staying inside our homes or shortening daily walks and exercise to avoid the cold winter weather. I confess, I am guilty of that too.
Less activity creates greater difficulty and pain in moving around the home. That is why when your dog first wakes up in the morning after laying down for long periods of time, they appear lame or limpy.
How can you help to ease the pain?
Provide supportive bedding like orthopaedic beds. They are specifically designed to evenly distribute weight, which aids circulation and provides an added measure of warmth.
2. Heat pads
Making sure you use dog safe products, these are great for those cold mornings or late at night when your dog is most stiff and sore. It can help alleviate osteoarthritis flare ups and relax the tissues. I recommend using it on an area for 15-20 minutes, or as long as your dog tolerates.
3. Get moving
I know a lot of pet parents struggle to find the right balance for their osteoarthritic dog. The key is to keep your dog engaged and moving in ways that aren't too strenuous on their body.
Examples of low-impact exercises include:
Shorter but more frequent walks on soft terrain
Indoor activities and puzzles
Hydrotherapy or swimming
Nose work - hide and seek with treats
Gentle play sessions
Some diets like processed dry food are pro-inflammatory because they contain specific ingredients that promote inflammation in the body. Since osteoarthritis is an inflammatory joint disease, a poor diet can worsen symptoms of joint pain .
Be sure to provide your dog with wholesome, fresh foods where you can. There are foods you can add during the winter that support joint health such as oily fish, green lipped mussels, bone broth and turmeric. Furthermore, foods like sweet potato, blueberries and papaya have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to help combat the effects of osteoarthritis.
There are certain protein sources that are “warming” to the body, which you could feed more of during the winter season to support your senior dog’s energetic balance. Some examples include chicken, turkey, lamb, trout and venison.
In addition to a healthy diet, there are several supplements that are designed to improve mobility and support joint tissue , which may help alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms.
There are so many products on the market and it really is trial and error when it comes to finding one that works for your individual dog. If your dog is already on joint supplements but you are not seeing the desired results, consider re-evaluating them or add another supplement into their daily routine.
Important supplements to consider are below:
Glucosamine is a natural component of cartilage that helps regulate collagen synthesis and contributes to the production of proteoglycans, which serve as the building blocks of cartilage formation . This provides an extra cushion for joints each time they move. Chondroitin is the major glycosaminoglycan found in cartilage . It promotes elasticity in the tissue and water retention, which also helps with shock absorption and cushioning. Chondroitin often goes hand in hand with glucosamine to prevent cartilage breakdown and aid lubrication to the joints.
Methylsulfonylmethane is a naturally-occurring organic sulphur compound. It acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that aids in inflammation reduction, blocking pain signals and strengthening the structural bond of connective tissue .
Fish oil is a popular supplement used by pet parents and is often the go-to recommended by vets. This is because of the omega 3 fatty acids present, more specifically eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. These fatty acids are proven to reduce inflammation, regulate the immune system and reduce non-normal inflammatory response in joints . Despite the benefits, fish oil does come with some negatives. Just be mindful when choosing fish oil products due to quality issues and contamination with heavy metals or toxins. Not only that, but fish oil easily oxidises when exposed to oxygen in the air, which turns the fats rancid. This process produces unstable molecules called free radicals, which cause oxidative stress and cell destruction when enough are built up and consumed by your dog.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that dogs manufacture from their own body. This vitamin acts as an antioxidant and is also involved in the formation of collagen. The reason one might consider supplementing vitamin C for their dog is because during times of stress or in disease states, dogs can see decreased vitamin C stores . A 2018 review of 10 scientific articles involving both humans and animals concluded that vitamin C had the potential to increase collagen formation and reduce oxidative stress on tissues with no reported adverse effects .
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body. It is the main structural protein found in skin and connective tissues such as joints, cartilage, tendons and ligaments . The production of collagen reduces as your dog gets older, which leads to achy joints and pain. Adding a collagen supplement can help to maintain connective tissue and reduce joint discomfort. A 2020 review reported that supplementation of undenatured type II collagen for joint health in humans and animals proved to be more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin .
Feel free to consult with your vet or contact me here if you would like to know which supplement would be right for your dog!
Both human and animal studies have found that massage is effective in restoring function to osteoarthritis joints and relieving pain [1, 8]. Massage therapy is gentle, non-invasive and effective as a sole method of treatment or in conjunction with conventional treatment of osteoarthritis. Treatments often involve a range of massage techniques, passive range of motion exercises, stretching and joint mobilisation.
You can watch YouTube tutorials on how to properly and safely perform gentle massages at home. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, you are more than welcome to reach out to me so I can ensure your individual dog's highest well-being and comfort. I offer FREE soft tissue health checks for your senior dog.
Find out more here!
7. Weight control
Maintaining your dog’s optimal weight is also crucial.
We know quite well as dogs age and slow down, they are susceptible to easier weight gain. I understand it can be tricky due to limited exercise and your dog may already be on a restricted diet. The extra weight carried puts strain on their joints and fuels inflammation in the body, setting your dog up to become and remain painful . Therefore, keeping your senior dog in a lean condition will help take the edge off and make movement much more comfortable.
If you need extra guidance, please reach out to your vet or get in touch here for help with implementing a weight loss plan at home!
Winter is tough on all of us, but it takes a particular toll on our senior, osteoarthritic dogs. A multi-modal treatment approach is the way to go in effectively managing your dog’s comfort levels. With a little help from you, there is no reason your dog can’t have a long and happy life – even with a touch of osteoarthritis.
Bone Voyage x
 Ali, A., Rosenberger, L., Weiss, T. R., Milak, C. & Perlman, A. I. (2017). Massage therapy and quality of life in osteoarthritis of the knee: A qualitative study. Pain Medicine, 18(6), 1168-1175.
 Bhathal, A., Spryszak, M., Louizos, C. & Frankel, G. (2017). Glucosamine and chondroitin use in canines for osteoarthritis: A review. Open Veterinary Journal, 7(1), 36-49.
 Bauer, J.E. (2011). Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. Timely Topics in Nutrition, 239(11), 1441-1451.
 Butawan, M., der Merwe, M., Benjamin, R.L. & Bloomer, R.J. (2019). Chapter 32 - methylsulfonylmethane: Anti-inflammatory actions and usage for arthritic conditions. Bioactive Food as Dietary Interventions for Arthritis and Related Inflammatory Diseases (Second Edition), 553-573.
 DePhillipo, N.N., Aman, Z.S., Kennedy, M.I., Begley, J.P., Moatshe, G. & LaPrade, R.F. (2018). Efficacy of vitamin C supplementation on collagen synthesis and oxidative stress after musculoskeletal injuries. The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(10), 1-9.
 Fernandes, E.S., Russell, F.A., Alawi, K.M., Sand, C., Liang, L., Salamon, R., Bodkin, J.V., Aubdool, A.A., Arno, M., Gentry, C., Smillie, S.J., Bevan, S., Keeble, J.E., Malcangio, M. & Brain, S.D. (2016). Environmental cold exposure increases blood flow and affects pain sensitivity in the knee joints of CFA-induced arthritic mice in a TRPA1-dependent manner. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 18(7), 1- 12.
 Gencoglu, H., Orhan, C., Sahin, E. & Sahin, K. (2020). Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II) in joint health and disease: A review on the current knowledge of companion animals. Animals, 10(697), 1- 24.
 MacFarlane, P.D., Tute, S.A. & Alderson, B. (2014). Therapeutic options for the treatment of chronic pain in dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 55, 127-134.
 McAlindon, T., Formica, M., Schmid, C.H. & Fletcher, J. (2007). Changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature influence osteoarthritis pain. The American Journal of Medicine, 20(5), 429- 434.
 Steffens, D., Maher, C.G., Li, Q., Ferreira, M, L., Pereira, L.S.M. , Koes, B.W. & Latimer, J. (2014). Effect of weather on back pain: Results from a case crossover study. Arthritis Care and Research, 66(12), 1867-1872.