Arthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic pain in pets. It involves the gradual inflammation and destruction of the joints. Arthritis can appear as the result of prolonged stress on a particular joint, as the result of an old injury, or through natural development. Arthritis can appear at any age, though is more common in older dogs. The most common form is osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage dissipates and breaks down. This eliminates the comfortable cushion that prevents the bones from rubbing against each other.

Arthritis in dogs is treated through a multimodal approach, meaning a combination of multiple treatments. While some steps of the treatment will be targeted at pain relief, others will be anti-inflammatory, meant to alleviate symptoms.

As part of the treatment for arthritis, your vet will likely suggest physical rehabilitation, which strengthens your dog’s muscles, and provides added support for the joints. In time, this type of rehabilitation can also improve your dog’s mobility and range of movement, while inhibiting pain and inflammation.

Below, you’ll find some of the most common types of physical rehabilitation for treating canine arthritis.

Therapeutic Exercise

A huge misconception is that you should avoid exercise when suffering from arthritis. On the contrary. Exercise maintains the patient slim and fit, which means they put less pressure on their joints. Aside from maintaining a healthy weight, exercise also strengthens the dog’s muscles, and improves mobility.

In order to reap these beneficial effects, however, make sure you opt for low-impact exercises (not cardio, and nothing that strains the joints), such as walks, swimming, and underwater workouts.

Hands-on Techniques

A dog suffering from arthritis may also benefit from hands-on techniques, such as massage, muscle stretching, and joint manipulation. These may reduce inflammation, and alleviate pain, and are a great way to relax your dog, and get them warmed up pre-exercise. They can also get the blood flowing, and improve mobility.

You should only perform hands-on techniques with caution, however, and follow a trained veterinarian’s instructions. Improper massage or stretching techniques can actually put more strain on the dog’s muscles, and limit mobility.

Cold and Hot Treatment

As is the case with humans, applying hot or cold treatments to the incensed joints may provide some relief. Depending on your pet, and on your vet’s instructions, heat or cold may be more beneficial. For heat, you can opt for warm towels, ultrasound, or heat packs, while a cold effect can be achieved by the use of an ice pack (wrapped in a towel, always).

You can apply the hot or cold treatment to your dog’s joints after exercise, to decrease inflammation and help them cool off. Alternatively, such treatments may be particularly beneficial during an arthritis flare-up, to relieve pain.

Electrical Stimulation

Electrical stimulation (or Estim, for short) involves the transmission of low-level electrical currents to the affected joints, by use of small gel patches. These need to be applied directly to the dog’s skin, to properly transmit the electrical currents. Depending on your particular case, the vet may either recommend neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), which strengthens the surrounding muscles, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which reduces pain.

Laser Treatment

Through this technique, a specialist will apply a beam of light to the affected joints, and the immediately adjacent areas. This works to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain, but also promotes the healing of affected joint tissues.


Acupuncture is a complex treatment technique in which small needles are placed in some strategic areas of the body that are associated with pain. These tiny needles are thought to alleviate pain, improve nerve function in the pierced area, as well as alleviate inflammation.

Acupuncture can be a useful way to help your dog manage the pain, without the use of laters, or other electrical stimulants, if you so wish.

Shockwave Treatment

Last but not least, shockwave treatment involves the use of a high-energy probe in key arthritic areas. This probe, which transmits high energy sound waves, is attached to the affected areas and beams those waves into the affected tissue. In turn, this is thought to encourage the healing of the affected tissue, and reduce inflammation. Shockwave treatment can also be an efficient choice for pain management.

In conclusion

These are some of the main physical rehabilitation choices for canines suffering from arthritis. Of course, each treatment course has its pros and cons, which your vet will advise you on, during consultation. While some treatment options may be more appealing to you than others, bear in mind that each case is a little different.

Your vet will be able to suggest an appropriate course of treatment (or rather, a multimodal combination), depending on your dog’s specific condition and needs. You may need to try multiple treatments before settling on one that works best.