Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Dog Arthritis: 3 Ways to Help with Debbie Gross Saunders


Debbie Gross SaundersDebbie Gross Saunders is an expert in canine physical therapy. In the decade plus that I’ve known her, she’s helped me help many dogs in my care. She has dogs, loves dogs and knows dogs. Recently I asked her for 3 ways to help with dog arthritis.

Top on her list (and mine): weight loss. Extra weight on arthritic joints makes everything harder and more painful. But she wisely adds to this mandate “… and that includes a good diet.” Our dogs can have an excellent diet and lose weight. Personally, I am not a fan of low-fat weight-loss diets for dogs. I’ve found through the years that these can leave some dogs intensely hungry with sudden increases in trash and counter-top raiding. Instead, feed an excellent diet in smaller amounts. Bulk those meals up with high-fiber additives like green beans or plain canned pumpkin. For wet meals, pack Kongs to make meals take longer. For dry meals, use a food-dispensing toy – ball or wobbler. The biggest aid to canine weight loss? A measuring cup.

Regular exercise is Debbie’s next suggestion: -“Shorter periods of exercise to increase blood flow and movement are beneficial to keep the joints lubricated, muscles worked and improve balance and proprioception. Older dogs tend to lose their balance more – very similar to older people.  So exercises that work on balance are important – gentle rocking, slow leash walking, and balance challenges.”

Debbie is a master of simple exercises you can do at home to help your dog feel and age better. It’s as easy as learning how to pet your dog a little differently. How great is that? She offers detailed instruction on 18 such easy, life-style shifts and additions in her DVD:  Osteoarthritis and Your Dog (Flash: She’s offering us $5.00 off . Use  the code: DOGEXPERT ) The DVD includes:

  • Types of Arthritis and Their Causes
  • Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
  • Treatments of Osteoarthritis
  • Modifying Exercise

What You can Do For Your Dog – includes 18 exercises and practical solutions demonstrated on dogs with osteoarthritis

Her third recommendation is to help dogs get in and out of cars – steps or ramps are great to make sure the dog does not jump in or out of the car. Throw rugs work great on slippery floors to reduce the chances of slipping, and a good bed with support works great as well.

Debbie says: “I have found that it does not take a lot to improve the quality of life of dogs with arthritis.  A regular exercise routine, pain control, and balance exercises usually do magic!  I encourage owners to rock their dogs hips back and forth, switching weight from side to side to assist with the balance throughout the day, makes a big difference.  2 ten minute walks a day is also hugely beneficial.  And keeping the older arthritic pet part of the family mentally is key – even older and arthritic – they are still a key component of your life.

Thank you, Debbie, for all that you do!

Debbie Gross Saunders, DPT, MSPT, OCS, CCRP, Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner, has been working in the field of small animal physical rehabilitation and wellness for over 17 years.  The benefits of working with animals and improving their quality of life is paramount to her. Her motto includes “every dog should have the best quality of life for the longest time possible


  1. What about helping a puppy with hip dysplasia? My 10 month old black lab mix (I think mixed with pit bull/ Rottweiler/ German Shepherd but not sure…) has what looks like severe hip dysplasia and our vet says the surgery is our best option but we can not afford it. What are some other ways to help our puppy deal with his pain? I want to keep him active without making his hips worse. he also pees on his stomach at the end like when he is pushing the rest of his urine out. Also, hi penis comes out when he sits own, and he sits completely on his hips/ back and his back is very arched, it feels like his bones stick out. I don’t feel like the vet is helping us find out what is really wrong with Kona and I’m scared he won’ live long or happy if we don’t do something ASAP, but I want to make sure we are spending our money on the right option.

    • Hi Ellie – Many dogs with severe HD are worse at his age and then stabilize for years. Keeping him lean and well muscled is a start. Swimming is awesome for most dogs, if you have it near by. Otherwise walking is great. Esp. up slopes.

      Make sure the footing indoors is excellent. The less sliding around, the better.

      The arched back can be an effort to get the weight off his hips. And the sitting position you describe can be a part of hip issues as well. I’d find a good K9 PT person and get an assessment from them, too.

      Good luck to you and Kona – Sarah

  2. Hello my 6month old St. Bernard is having same problems and he’s waiting to go see a specialist. I’m so unhappy as I love taking dogs out and it’s made me sad I can only go on little walks with him.
    I hope to god they don’t say he needs surgery. We have insurance but can’t afford a huge bill upfront even if they pay us back 🙁 he doesn’t seem in pain but struggles getting up and his legs collapse on occasion. He still loves to play also and go out. Keep fingers crossed please. I’m trying fish oil at moment and going to start adding tumeric to his diet soon.

  3. Could you please post a video on hip rocking?

  4. Hi I think my 3 months old turning 4 months on 11th June 2017 rottweiler has a syntoms of HD her left leg is mysterious she is she gets tired easily and her head is too low when walking and when she run its like a rabbit and when she needs to jump over the gate door she needs to take time to get a momentum and after I walked her I’m trying to masage her hips she is reacting and doesn’t like to cuddle she don’t seat like a frog but lay down like a chicken she seats before she get up but she walks normally I just can see that she has HD 🙁

    • Hi Paul – Sorry to hear that. Some dogs you can see it early and some dogs go through HEINOUS growth phases which mysteriously work themselves out. Talk to her vet, find good PT advice so you can help her now build muscle to stabilize herself and keep her lean. I’ve had dogs with severe HD who loved happy, active lives. Hope you have that outcome if this is what is going on. Good Luck – Sarah

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