Six Ways to Help your Dog with Arthritis
If you suffer from arthritis, you understand joint pain and stiffness all too well. But did you know that dogs are affected by arthritis just as often as – if not more than – humans?
Arthritis, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD) or osteoarthritis (OA), is the most common joint disease in dogs. More than 20% of adult dogs have arthritis in at least one joint. That number jumps to over 80% for dogs older than 7. OA is commonly found in the hips, knees, elbows, and back.
There are certain risk factors that can increase your dog’s chances of developing arthritis:
- Age: Incidence increases as your pet ages
- Size: Large breed dogs tend to experience more arthritis than smaller breeds
- Weight: Overweight dogs are apt to have arthritis more than dogs who are kept at a lean body weight
- Previous injury: Commonly develops at the site of a previous injury or orthopedic surgery
- Breed: Certain breeds, such as the Labrador retriever and German shepherd, are genetically predisposed to developing this condition
Arthritis causes pain and decreased mobility and can make your dog reluctant to interact with your family. Fortunately, there are many treatment options available for arthritis.
Multiple medications, supplements and other therapies are frequently used together in order to increase their effectiveness, and give your pet the best relief possible. Below we will discuss six ways you can help your dog with arthritis.
Joint supplements (nutraceuticals)
Nutraceuticals are substances that are not technically considered medications, and are not regulated by the FDA. Several of these are available for the treatment of joint disease. Most of them do not require a prescription, and they generally have few or no side-effects.
These are a great place to start for dogs who have just begun to show signs. They can also be given to young dogs to promote joint health and to help prevent future joint damage.
They typically take 4-8 weeks to produce results, so they are not the best stand-alone option for pets that are experiencing advanced arthritis pain. They can be given safely with NSAIDs and other pain medications that are routinely used for arthritis. These supplements do not work as well for arthritis in the back, due to the unique structure of the spine. It is important to remember that they will do nothing to improve or remove arthritis that is already present.
Glucosamine, chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) are substances that play a role in the production of healthy cartilage. MSM also helps reduce inflammation within the joints. These ingredients are usually available together in one product. Veterinary formulas are easy to administer, and can include chewable treats, capsules, or liquid you can mix with your dog’s food.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements can be mixed with your dog’s food in order to improve joint health. They reduce inflammation within the joints, as well as in other internal organs. They are also good for the skin and hair coat. Caution should be used with overweight pets, as these can contain a lot of extra calories.
Adequan is a concentrated form of chondroitin that is given by injection. It tends to produce better results in less time than oral forms. This might be a good alternative for dogs that cannot take prescription medications due to liver or kidney problems. This does require a prescription, and your veterinarian can show you how to give the simple injections at home.
Diets can be purchased that contain glucosamine, chondroitin and other joint substances for joint support but they are usually not present in large enough concentrations to have any beneficial effect. It is better to purchase a high-quality diet without these additives, and give them separately.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)
NSAIDs are the go-to medication for treating osteoarthritis – in humans as well as dogs. These drugs work to reduce pain and inflammation in the affected joints by reducing swelling and blocking the production of prostoglandins, which are chemical messengers that carry pain signals throughout the body. Ibuprofen and naproxen are examples of human NSAIDs.
Human NSAIDs – although they are the same class of drug – should never be given to pets, as they can be toxic. Veterinary formulas are available in easy-to-give flavored, chewable tablets or liquid, and are much easier on your pet’s body.
Just as in humans, each drug works differently for each patient. There are a variety of these medications on the market, so if the medication prescribed for your pet does not seem to be working well, you can opt to try a different drug.
NSAIDs specifically made for dogs are a much safer alternative than using human drugs or steroids to control pain and inflammation, but they are not without potential side-effects. Although they are not common, potential adverse effects are liver damage, kidney damage, and stomach upset. If your dog is placed on these drugs, simple blood tests will be done periodically to check for damage to the internal organs. If problems are found, alternative medications or treatments will be given to your pet.
If your pet is on an NSAID, but does not seem to be feeling full pain relief, other pain medications can be added to your pet’s treatment regimen. This is called multimodal analgesia (pain relief).
Different classes of drugs reduce pain in the body in different ways than the NSAIDs, and they can be given safely together to attack the pain from different angles. These medications are purely for pain relief, and have no effect on inflammation in the joints. These medications have less toxic effects on the liver and kidneys, and may be used alone in some pets that cannot take NSAIDs.
Being overweight is a huge risk factor for developing arthritis, and it can even make arthritis worse. Your dog’s body weight is the only risk factor for this condition that you can control. If your dog is suffering with arthritis, you should make an effort to keep him at an ideal or slightly lean body weight, in order to reduce the strain on his joints.
Studies have shown that fat cells produce a substance that increases inflammation within the body. This means that overweight pets are at risk for more arthritis pain. Every pound your overweight pet loses can help tremendously.
A veterinarian can determine how much weight your pet might need to lose, and can recommend a weight-loss program for you. You can monitor your pet’s weight at home using Purina’s Body Condition Scale.
Maintaining an ideal weight is essential for easing joint pain, and proper muscle tone helps to provide stability to joints affected with arthritis. The best way to achieve lean body weight and maintain your pet’s muscle mass is through exercise. Frequent, but short, exercise sessions are best for pets with this condition.
A casual stroll around the block, rather than long-distance walks or hiking, are much better for arthritis pain. Non-impact exercises like swimming are also a great way for your pet to get exercise without all the stress on the joints.
Massage is an excellent option for reducing arthritis pain. It increases blood flow to the affected area, which helps to produce warmth and remove waste products. For it to be effective, you need to massage your pet a few times a day for 10-15 minutes each time. A veterinarian can demonstrate the proper technique for massage. This may not be possible for animals that are very painful or reactive.
Acupuncture does not work for every pet, but it is definitely worth a try. It seems to be most effective for pets with arthritis in their back, rather than the joints in the legs. Regular sessions are needed to maintain optimal effectiveness. For better results, electroacupuncture can be used. This involves passing a small electrical current through the needles, in order to stimulate the deep muscle tissue.
Class IV laser therapy, sometimes called a “cold laser”, is one of the newest treatment options for joint pain and swelling. A painless, invisible laser beam is applied to the affected joint for several minutes. This increases blood flow to the area, stimulates nerve function, and increases the production of the body’s natural painkillers. The laser can also be used to stimulate acupuncture points in the body.
Stem cell therapy is being used more frequently as a treatment for arthritis in dogs. The first step for this treatment is a small surgical procedure to remove some extra fat from your pet’s body – don’t worry, he won’t miss it. This fat is sent to a special laboratory where the stem cells are removed from the fat, and rapidly multiplied. The stem cells are then sent back to the veterinarian’s office, where they are injected directly into your dog’s affected joints. Over 80% of dogs treated with stem cells experience pain relief that can last for years depending on the severity of the arthritis and the activity level of your dog.
New treatments for arthritis are constantly being developed. Many arthritic patients benefit from a referral to a veterinary rehabilitation center. They have access to specialized equipment and techniques that can improve your dog’s arthritis symptoms without the use of drugs. These include underwater treadmill, veterinary chiropractic, electrical nerve stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, thermotherapy, magnetic therapy and many others.
As you can see, there are many options for managing arthritis pain in your arthritic dog. Find a veterinarian in your area to determine which ones are right for your pet, so that he can live a comfortable pain-free life.