10 Caring Ways to Help a German Shepherd With Arthritis


German Shepherd running with ball

Canine osteoarthritis or simply arthritis occurs when your dog’s joints are inflamed, and you can tell when your dog is suffering from arthritis by paying attention to the signs the dog displays to show pain and discomfort.

Your dog’s joints are lubricated with joint fluid that lowers friction as the bones glide over each other. However, arthritis affects the cartilage causing the bones to rub against each other when there is not enough lubrication.

You can help your arthritic GSD by providing medication, supplements, managing their weight, maintaining an active lifestyle, getting ramps when needed, getting a good dog bed, keeping their nails short, and covering floors to give them the footing they need to walk safely and comfortably.

Although there’s no known cure for osteoarthritis, you have to be swift in choosing the most appropriate treatment for this disease.

Read on to find out ten ways to help your German Shepherd with arthritis, so you can help your furry friend live a more comfortable life. We will also discuss its causes, signs, and diagnosis.

What Causes Arthritis in German Shepherds?

What causes arthritis in dogs? This is a question many dog owners ask themselves. It is an important question, and the answer will help you get solutions on how to prevent and control osteoarthritis.

Arthritis acquired due to old age may be inevitable, but you can do your part to watch for symptoms and get your pup early treatment.

Some of the common causes of arthritis in German Shepherds include:

  • Age: Older dogs are more susceptible to arthritis; in fact, a recent studyOpens in a new tab. has shown that approximately 60 percent of dogs above the age of seven are likely to develop arthritis as they age.
  • Joint infection: If your furry friend has an infection in a joint, the infection can eventually develop to arthritis. Infections can occur after an injury or a wound near the joint. You can help prevent arthritis by treating the infection using antibiotics.
  • Ligament damage: Injury to ligaments is one of the most common causes of arthritis in dogs. A cranial cruciate ligament (CCL)Opens in a new tab. in the knee is a common type of ligament damage.

    While these tears often occur near the knees, they can also affect other joints. Ligament damage can cause joint instability and excess wear of the cartilage. Early diagnosis of excess wear of the cartilage can help prevent osteoarthritis from developing.
  • Cartilage problems: Thickening of the joint cartilage (OCD or Osteochondritis dissecansOpens in a new tab.) can eventually cause injury leading to arthritis. German Shepherds with OCD will tear the thickened cartilage leading to lame joints.

    Cartilage problems are common in overweight dogs, and signs can show when the dog is between the ages of 4 to 8 months. Your vet can treat cartilage problems through surgery to get rid of the excess cartilage.
  • Autoimmune disorders: Sometimes, a rare disease may also cause arthritis in dogs. Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can cause inflammation, pain, and lameness.

    The overreaction of the immune system often causes these diseases, and they can affect more than just the joint. The diseases may cause the cartilage and the bone in the joint to wear away. Your vet will recommend immunosuppressive drugs.

What Are the Common Signs of Arthritis in GSDs?

As a dog owner, you most likely get worried about your dog when they get sick. However, you may not know how to tell when your German Shepherd has osteoarthritis.

You can tell whether your dog has arthritis by observing the behavioral changes of your dog. As already mentioned, arthritis causes stiffnessOpens in a new tab., and this affects the way a dog walks.

Therefore, if you notice lameness or stiffness as your dog walks, then he may have arthritis.

Below are other common signs that your German Shepherd may have arthritis:

  • The dog seems off or stressed
  • The dog does not eat as much
  • Difficulties in moving
  • Crying more than usual
  • General discomfort
  • Tenderness, trembling, or limping when walking.
  • The dog is less interested in walks or taking part in any other physical activities
  • Difficulty lying down or getting up

If your German Shepherd has mobility issues, it does not necessarily mean that they have arthritis.

For instance, if your dog struggles to climb into the car or leave and enter a dog bed, it does not necessarily imply they have arthritis. However, you need to find out why your dog is showing these signs.

Still, you should not assume that your dog is undergoing some of these symptoms because of old age, especially when it is an aging one.

It is also important to remember that not all mobility problems are caused by joint problems.

A dog may experience lameness, some pain, and stiffness, all of which are symptoms that can be similarly portrayed by a spinal disease, injury to soft tissues, or cancer of the bone.

Therefore, don’t assume that your German Shepherd has arthritis yet. Instead, you may want to seek the assistance of a qualified veterinarian.

How Is Arthritis Diagnosed in German Shepherds?

German Shepherd at vet

An experienced vet will be able to confirm whether your GSD has arthritis by conducting a pain and discomfort examination.

For more in-depth analyses, an X-ray may be necessary. An X-ray enables the vet to locate the arthritic change, location, and identify the underlying causes.

Samples such as blood and joint fluid may also be acquired from the dog for further specialized examination.

The vet will conduct the arthritis examination processOpens in a new tab. by first performing a muscular and skeletal assessment. From the assessment, the vet may also recommend an X-ray, CT scan, or an ultrasound to determine the severity of arthritis.

However, while diagnostic imaging techniques tend to be more accurate, your vet may diagnose arthritis in your German Shepherd without them.

Sometimes, a dog may be ailing from other undiagnosed issues. Therefore, before you conclude that your dog has arthritis, you should schedule a meeting with an experienced veterinarian.

Ultimately, the conclusion that your German Shepherd has arthritis should only come after a qualified specialist has examined your dog.

Diagnosing a dog with arthritis without using diagnostic imaging techniques may expose them to drugs and other treatment measures designed for arthritic dogs.

However, your German Shepherd may be suffering from a different condition. According to Mary Straus from Whole Dog JournalOpens in a new tab., self-prescribing medication for your dog can be dangerous.

Visiting a vet can help pinpoint the exact problem by:

  • Determining whether your GSD is suffering from soft tissue injury. If this is the case, they may recommend an Ultrasound. The Ultrasound may reveal soft tissue injuries like ligament damage and muscle tears.
  • A CT scan or an X-ray can be necessary if the veterinary personnel suspects joint involvement.
  • The vet may also determine that your dog has spinal issues, such as spondylosis and Intervertebral Disc Disease.

If the vet has diagnosed your dog with arthritis, they will prescribe some medication. However, apart from the medication, there are other ways to help improve your dog’s health and improve their quality of life:

  • Manage the weight of your German Shepherd.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle.
  • Get a recommended dog bed and use ramps where necessary.
  • Keep the nails short.
  • Cover all floors for easy walkability.
  • Get the right supplements.
  • Prescribed medication.

10 Ways to Help Your German Shepherd with Arthritis

Now that we’ve gone over causes, signs, and diagnosis of arthritis in German Shepherds, we will move on to some very caring things that you can do to help your GSD manage his arthritis.

While some of these actions may seem small, it’s important to keep your eye on the big picture. In combination, the following methods will have a very large and helpful impact on your German Shepherd’s quality of life while managing arthritis.

Manage Your Dog’s Weight

Large dog breeds like GSDs are highly-susceptible to arthritis. If the vet has diagnosed your German Shepherd with arthritis, you will have to be careful about your dog’s weight to avoid obesity in your German Shepherd.

Your dog may become obeseOpens in a new tab. because of the type of food, quantity, and frequency of feeding. Besides watching out for what and how often you feed your dog, keeping them active is also important when it comes to weight management.

Ensure that you talk to the vet about weight loss for your GSD with arthritis. Your vet will help you come up with a grand dietary and exercise plan.

Additionally, it would help if you took your dog for regular check-ups to ensure that the veterinarian monitors your dog’s condition and make any necessary adjustments on the treatment plan.

For guidance on how to tell if your German Shepherd is overweight, and for how much to feed your pup, we have a few excellent articles for you linked below:

  1. German Shepherd Feeding Guide: All You Need to Know
  2. Is My German Shepherd Overweight? Here’s How to Tell

Maintain an Active Lifestyle

If your German Shepherd has arthritis, they will tend to be less active. However, exercise is still an essential part of a dog’s care plan.

Because of their decreased stamina, you should not take your dog for long walks. Instead, you can go for short and slow walks.

Remember to frequently check on your dog and try low-pace and steady walks. This will help to rebuild their muscles graduallyOpens in a new tab. and increase their strength and stability.

What’s more, regularly exercising your dog will help boost their immunity and morale. Along with the prescribed medication, exercises will help your German Shepherd to successfully manage the symptoms of arthritis.

Get a Good Dog Bed and Ramp

A lumpy dog bed may not be suitable for your German Shepherd anymore. Joints are sore, so getting comfortable is important.

Luckily, the market today has a wide variety of orthopedic beds for arthritic dogs. One such ideal bed for arthritis in you German Shepherd is the Furhaven Pet – Plush Ergonomic Contour Orthopedic Mattress.

This mattress is ergonomically designed with orthopedic foam that functions specifically to be easy on your dog’s joints. Take a look for yourself on Amazon to see all of the features that it offers:

As you shop for a suitable orthopedic bed for your German Shepherd, make that you do not purchase the elevated types.

These types of dog beds might have all the fancy aspects of a modern dog bed, but because they can challenge the movement of your arthritic dog, are not ideal.

Once you do get the proper orthopedic bed, be sure to keep it clean; washing the cover when needed and brushing it often to remove the excess hair so that your GSD stays nice and comfortable.

During the cold months, it is important to keep an arthritic dog warm, as the cold weather tends to stiffen joints. It’s a good idea to get a heating pad, such as the petnf Upgraded Pet Heating PadOpens in a new tab..

This pad has adjustable heat settings, it’s waterproof, and most importantly – it’s chew proof! It also has a temperature control wire that prevents overheating.

Additionally, you should consider getting warm clothing for your dog, especially during winter, to keep him warm. This will go a long way in preventing arthritis and other conditions brought along by the cold weather.

Because arthritis affects mobility, your furry friend may not be as active as they were before. This means that you may need to motivate your dog to go on walks. It’s important that you stay patient and encourage your GSD during these times.

Also, because German Shepherds are heavy dogs, you may not be able to lift and carry them easily, which can present problems when moving in and out of cars, or simply up a few stairs to your home or apartment.

Dog ramps can help your GSD climb up in places such as porches, couches, decks, cars, or other places of similar heights.

Products like the PetSafe Happy Ride Extra Long Telescoping Dog RampOpens in a new tab. can come in handy in such a situation.

This particular ramp can handle up to 300 lbs, and has a high traction surface to make sure that your GSD doesn’t slip and further aggravate his arthritis.

Keep Your Dog’s Nails Short

Most dog owners trim or grind their dog’s nails, but others leave this task to dog groomers. However, because your arthritic dog may have trouble gaining traction, you will need to keep their nails shorterOpens in a new tab. to make it easy for them to walk.

You can use a rotary tool or file to trim your dog’s nails or take your dog to the vet or groomer more often. We like to use the Casfuy Dog Nail GrinderOpens in a new tab..

This nail grinder is super easy to use, it’s rechargeable, and very importantly – it’s not loud. Grinding a dog’s nails is most often not the most pleasant experience for your dog, so we appreciate the quiet hum of the Casfuly Grinder rather than the loud noises emitted by many other nail grinders.

Generally, your dog’s nails shouldn’t touch the floor when walking. Otherwise, your dog won’t be able to stand and walk comfortably.

When not trimmed, the nails may cause more strain to your dog, and unnecessary stress will be placed on their joints. What’s more, long nails can intensify arthritis pain.

Cover Your Floors for Easy Walkability

Arthritis is a debilitating condition that may weaken the muscles of your German Shepherd. For this reason, your dog may have a difficult time gaining tractionOpens in a new tab. on marble, hardwood, laminate, and other slick floors.

To avoid this, you may want to place foam mats, rubber runners, bath mats, or yoga mats in areas in your home where your pup walks to give them the footing they need to get around safely.

Since your dog will still want to move around in your home, you may have to place rubber treads or carpet the stairs to give them the traction they need.

It may also help to place special socks or shoes with grippy bottoms on your dog’s feet. However, if your German Shepherd will be wearing them for the first time, they may not tolerate something on their feet, and they may even have trouble walking.

Having sore joints and walking on rough floors can be quite excruciating. So, the best way you can help the dog is by ensuring that the common areas and places where your dog walks are safe and comfortable.

Body Work and Complementary Therapy

Just like humans, massages can be very helpful for a German Shepherd with arthritis.

However, if possible, massages should be done by an experienced professional who is familiar with the right spots to touch and the frequency and intensity they should use.

Failure to follow the procedure may do more harm than good to your dog. You can also watch how experts do it online and imitate them. 

Below is a YouTube video that demonstrates proper dog massage technique:

When done properly, massage can help in relaxing your dog’s muscles. Massages also enhance blood flow to atrophying vessels. Therefore, apart from helping your pup relax, massages can improve their overall health.

Acupuncture serves as a complementary therapeutic measure to keep dogs comfortable and relieve pain caused by arthritis.

This traditional form of treatment can improve the mobility of your Shepherd. Additionally, some health experts also prescribe other formulations and herbal approaches, such as traditional Chinese medicine, that supplement acupuncture.

Supplements

Joint supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and MSM can support your arthritic GSD treatment plan.

While supplements are not a substitute for the prescribed medication, they can help ease the joint pain. Omega 3 and glucosamine supplements don’t have the side effects of dog prescription drugs.

We find that a good overall joint supplement is Cosequin Maximum Strength Joint SupplementOpens in a new tab.. This supplement contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM – all very good for joints.

We’ll break it down for you right here:

  • Glucosamine: Helps form chemical compounds involved in creating articular cartilage and synovial fluid (the stuff that allows your joints to move freely)
  • Chondroitin: A vital part of cartilage that prevents breakdown and stimulates repair.
  • MSM: Reduces joint pain, lowers inflammation, and speeds recovery after exercise.

Prescribed Medication

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have the same effect in dogs as humans—they help reduce stiffness, swelling, and joint pains. Unlike supplements, prescription medications are fast-acting and very effective. 

Typical medications that your vet may recommend include:

  • NSAIDs or Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories: Your vet will recommend this medication to relieve pain, stiffness, and to bring down the inflammation. Some of the common brands of NSAIDsOpens in a new tab. are Deramaxx, Rimadyl, and Previcox.
  • Corticosteroids: Instead of NSAIDs, your vet may prescribe corticosteroids such as dexamethasone or prednisone. However, because steroids have serious, long-lasting effects than NSAIDs, most veterinarians won’t recommend this medication.

    Additionally, this medication should never be administered in conjunction with NSAIDs, as they can cause severe gastrointestinal damage.
  • Analgesics: Medications in this category, such as tramadol and gabapentin, can help relieve pain caused by arthritis. However, these are not anti-inflammatory drugs, and your veterinarian may prescribe them along with an NSAID.
  • Adequan injections: These medications may be prescribed in conjunction with any of the above drugs. This is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan that is made from cattle cartilage, and it is administered through injection in the dog’s joint to prevent the cartilage from wearing away.

    Additionally, this treatment keeps the cartilage healthy and prevents joint bones from grinding. According to PetMDOpens in a new tab., this treatment is quite effective.

It is important to note that, while prescription medication may be more effective than any other treatment, they come with some risks.

For instance, if your dog has another health condition, they may not be good candidates for some of the above treatments. Additionally, lab work may be necessary before your dog can receive some prescription medications.

Laser Therapy

Also referred to as Photobiomodulation (PBMT), phototherapy, low-level laser therapy, or cold laser, this is a new treatment method that is used to treat different medical conditions in pets. This form of treatment’s main benefit is that it’s noninvasive, painless, and easy to administer.

PBMT works by accelerating the healing process in tissues, decreasing inflammation, providing analgesia, and boosting the immune system.

Vets use this treatment method to relieve pain, decrease inflammation, improve wound healing, improve neurological functions after injury or inflammation, enhance the healing of sports-related injuries, and treat joint conditions.

Through PBMT, your vet can help relieve your dog’s pain and inflammation caused by arthritis. PBMT reduces the production of bradykinin and cyclooxygenaseOpens in a new tab.. This helps increase the number of cytokines and other growth factors that have anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and anti-apoptotic properties.

What’s more, laser therapy also reduces the production of harmful inflammatory markers, reduces neutrophils in joint fluid, and increases joint mobility.

This treatment can also reduce inflammation in tendons and ligaments and increase the collagen fibril size, tensile strength, and fibroblast production.  

Healthy Diet Plan

German Shepherd with food bowl in yard

The food you give to your dog can either end up being medicinal or toxic. This means that it can either alleviate symptoms of arthritis or fuel them.

Caution is necessary at this point with everything you feed your pup. Ensure that the diet contains the right ingredientsOpens in a new tab. to fight the progression of arthritis, alleviate discomfort, and uphold the well-being of the German Shepherd.

When caring for an arthritic GSD, the nutritional value of your dog’s food is what matters the most. Some foods are usually only eaten by us humans, but they contain nutrients that can help in fighting inflammation.

Important note: Avoid store-bought canned dog food that is branded as friendly for arthritic dogs. It is best to only go with brands that are recommended by your vet.

The following is a list showing suitable whole foods, herbs and spices, and oils that will help with your German Shepherd’s arthritis.

Here’s a list of suitable whole foods for your arthritic German Shepherd:

  • Fiber-filled veggies: Sweet potatoes, pumpkin, acorn squash
  • Antioxidant fruits: Blueberries, peeled apples, cherries, cantaloupe
  • Lean protein: Chicken, turkey
  • Leafy greens: Kale and spinach
  • Veggies rich in vitamins: Broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower

Here’s a list of suitable herbs and spices for your arthritic GSD:

  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Fresh ginger
  • Parsley

Here’s a list of suitable oils for your arthritic German Shepherd:

  • Coconut oil
  • Omega-3 oils: Green-lipped mussel oils, fish oil
  • Flaxseed oil

There are also some foods that you must never give to your dog, especially if they have arthritis.

Some of the foods to avoid include:

  • Grains: When caring for an arthritic German Shepherd, ensure that you get grain-free foods. Most processed dog foods contain grains such as rice, wheat, and soy, which can increase the blood sugar levels in your dog.

    This will increase painful joint swelling. Grain-free foods can decrease inflammation, but you should talk to your vet before you change your dog’s diet.
  • Fatty proteins: A diet filled with fatty proteins can make your arthritic dog overweight. According to The AtlanticOpens in a new tab., obesity affects approximately 50 percent of dogs in the U.S.

    Although you should include protein in your dog’s diet for strong muscles, you will want to add only lean proteins such as turkey or chicken.
  • Corn: While corn is a staple ingredient in most processed dog foods, it is high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are good sources of energy, but they can also increase sensitivity that may cause inflammation.

    Although you won’t notice any immediate change once your dog ingests corn, it can worsen your dog’s arthritis over time.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: Most processed foods contain excessive omega 6-fatty acids. These fatty acids contain cheaper oils such as sunflower, corn, canola oils, and soybean.

    However, if you have an arthritic dog, you should avoid giving the foods rich in omega-6. This is because their body will convert the excess fat to arachidonic acid, which can be highly inflammatory to your dog. 
  • Added salts and sugars: According to Dr. Conway from Healthy PetsOpens in a new tab., the more processed pet food is, the more likely it can cause inflammation to an arthritic dog.

    Because all manufacturer food is processed to a certain extent, you should choose foods that don’t contain artificial additives, which are actually unnecessary. Therefore, when choosing dog food for your arthritic GSD, always read the label carefully.

For a complete list of human foods safe for German Shepherds and what you should stay away from, be sure to read this excellent post we have for you linked below:

Human Foods Safe for German Shepherds: And What to Avoid

Final Thoughts

Has your German Shepherd been diagnosed with arthritis? Unfortunately, once the joint cartilage has been damaged, it rarely repairs completely. What you can do to help your dog is to keep the cartilages and joints in check to prevent further deterioration.

Your German Shepherd can live pain-free with proper medication even if the cartilage does not heal fully. Medical care has advanced tremendously, and this has changed entire process of pain management in arthritic dogs.

The severity of dog arthritis will vary between different dogs. Therefore, in some cases, your dog may respond well to medication, and in other cases, take longer before some improvement is seen.

To ensure that you’re providing your dog with the right treatment, first ensure that you visit your vet. However, while your vet may prescribe some medication, you can care for your arthritic German Shepherd by simply changing the diet and exercising your dog.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 18 years now. I'm originally from Indiana, though I've lived in many different states and traveled extensively. The places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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