Advancements in canine arthritis: Decreased pain, improved mobility, and other key findings in UPenn’s Clinical Trial of Big Barker Therapeutic Mattresses

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Researchers at UPenn have identified a new tool to add to your multimodal approach to management of canine osteoarthritis. 

With almost 20 million dogs in the U.S. diagnosed with some level of osteoarthritis1, consumer demand for new ways to alleviate the symptoms of this progressive disease continues to rise. Combine that with the rising cost of pharmaceuticals plus their negative side effects and consumer demand for more alternative therapies, it’s time to explore new weapons in the multimodal fight against osteoarthritis.

Foam orthopedic dog beds have been used anecdotally in the past to provide support and comfort to dogs suffering from OA, however the clinical efficacy of these beds has not been studied. 

Since 2012, the Big Barker bed has amassed a significant amount of anecdotal testimony from dog owners suggesting improvements to their dog’s energy levels, mobility, and overall quality of life.

In order to determine whether the Big Barker mattresses provide clinically measurable results, Grace Anne Mengel, VMD, Staff Veterinarian of the Primary Care Service at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania and her team conducted a clinical pilot study. 

The goal: determine if Big Barker therapeutic dog beds provide measurable benefit to large dogs (greater than 70 pounds) with existing or potential joint and mobility problems.big barker dog beds


What They Did

A single center, open-label, proof of concept study was utilized to explore this concept. The study was conducted at one location, all study participants knew about the product that was being tested, and the goal of the study was to determine if the therapeutic dog beds have enough practical potential to warrant more study.

40 dogs were included in the trial. All study participants were client-owned big dogs weighing more than 70 pounds and older than 3 years of age. All were required to have a diagnosis of osteoarthritis confirmed by a veterinary radiologist at the Ryan Small Animal Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dogs with significant underlying illness, such as unregulated chronic diseases such as hypothyroidism, neoplasia, and any clinically significant neurological diseases were excluded from the trial.

The dogs were enrolled in the study for 38 days: 10 days prior to randomization, and 28 days following randomization. The dog bed utilized in the study was the Big Barker 7 inch dog bed, a therapeutic mattress constructed using Big Barker’s proprietary 3-layered OrthoMedicTM blend of high-density foam.

All enrolled dogs wore an animal activity monitor ± an omni-directional (3-axis) accelerometer – to collect activity and sleep data for the duration of the study. Dogs were evaluated weekly with the Canine Orthopedic Index (COI), Canine Brief Pain Inventory (CBPI), Canine Symptom Assessment Scale (CSAS), Global Assessment of Change (GAC), and the Canine/Owner Level of Interaction (LOI). In addition, validated questionnaires were filled out by pet owners to measure pain and evaluate function.

The changes from baseline to day 28 following randomization were assessed by using:

  • Domain scores quality of life, (stiffness, gait, function) from the Canine Orthopedic Index (COI)
  • Domain scores (severity and interference) from the Canine Brief Pain Inventory (CBPI)
  • Individual questions on the Global Assessment of Change questionnaire (GAC)
  • Total 7-day activity counts from the Phillips Respironics Actical Animal Activity monitor

Big Barker - I Love Veterinary

What They Found

The results of the dogs sleeping on the Big Barker beds were very encouraging.

In general, dogs that slept on the Big Barker therapeutic mattress showed statistically significant  improvement. In addition, the owners reported significant reductions in pain and joint stiffness, and impressive improvements in their dog’s gait, joint function, and overall quality of life during the study. The detailed results included:

  • 19.9% improvement to mean pain score, as measured by the CSAS, which measure the frequency and severity of a dog’s pain, as well as the level of distress caused by the pain.
  • 21.6% improvement to the mean pain severity score, as measured by the CBPI.
  • 12.5% improvement to mean score of joint stiffness as measured by the COI.
  • 17.6% improvement to joint function, as measured by the improvement to the COI mean score. In specific, dogs showed improvement in jumping up, jumping down, climbing up stairs, and climbing down stairs.
  • 15.1% improvement in mean score of quality of life, as measured by the COI.
  • 14.3% improvement to the mean pain interference score, as measured by the CBPI. This score relates to how much pain interferes with 6 daily activities, including general activity, rising to stand, walking, running, climbing, and enjoyment of life.
  • 9.6% in gait, as measured by improvement in the COI mean score.

The remainder of the statistical tests did not show strong enough statistical evidence to result in rejections of the null hypotheses. The exception to this was pacing, which measured an 83% improvement to the mean score on the CSAC, resulting in a z-statistic equal to 1.999 and subsequent p-value of 0.0456 which is statistically significant at the alpha = 0.05 significance level.

Infographic Real Beds Change Lives by Bigbarker

Adding Bed Recommendations to Your Osteoarthritis Tool Kit

While we as humans all know that we feel better after a good night’s sleep on a supportive mattress, the results of this study show that dogs can also reap the benefits of a good bed. As the approach to managing osteoarthritis is considered multimodal, it makes sense to consider what the dog is sleeping on, and how that affects his quality of life. 

This study shows promise in adding Big Barker beds to the arsenal of multimodal tools used to reduce pain and other morbidity associated with osteoarthritis in big dogs. 

Furthermore, it may become the standard of care in the near future to recommend a supportive sleeping surface like Big Barker beds to clients of big dogs who are looking for more ways to provide comfort and wellness to their fur friend.


  1. Bland, S. D. (2015). Canine osteoarthritis and treatments: a review. Veterinary Science Development, 5(2).

Dr Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. She is a practicing veterinarian as well as a certified veterinary journalist, author, and speaker.

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