Treatments For Dogs With Arthritis
Signs Of Arthritis In Dogs
Most dogs are incredibly tolerant of pain, and if your pet is showing even mild symptoms of arthritis it is certainly time to do something about it. All too many pets suffer in silence without their owners recognising there is a problem. It is estimated that 20% of all dogs, and 80% of dogs over the age of 8 years have arthritis.
The symptoms of arthritis in dogs may include:
- stiffness and difficulty rising
- lameness on one or more legs
- reluctance to exercise
- difficulty standing and walking on tiles or wooden floors
- changes in temperament
- urinating or defecating indoors
Causes Of Osteoarthritis
Arthritis, or osteoarthritis to give it the correct name, has a range of causes. It is much more prevalent in certain breeds of dogs due to inherited conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, or conformational problems such as those seen in chondrodystrophoid breeds like English Bulldogs and some terriers. Previous injuries such as cruciate ligament rupture or joint fractures will make a dog far more likely to develop arthritis later in life.
For more information on the causes of arthritis in dogs please read these other pages on the subject of lameness and injury:
Dog Lameness Poll
Where Is Your Dog Limping Or Stiff?
Obesity can play a major role in the development of arthritis in dogs, and arthritic dogs are more likely to become overweight due to decreased activity. As well as putting extra strain on your dog's joints, more and more research is proving just how many ill effects excess fat has on the body. In particular, adipose tissue (fat) increases inflammation and decreases pain tolerance.
Clearly, every arthritic dog would benefit from being at his ideal bodyweight, neither too heavy nor too lean, as excess weight loss may result in the loss of essential muscle which protects and supports the joints. If you intend to diet your dog without veterinary supervision, I would advise supplementing his diet with L-carnitine, which helps maintain muscle mass and supports fat breakdown.
Keeping Your Arthritic Dog Active
Maintaining activity in your pet with arthritis is important to control weight, keep his cardiovascular system healthy, and for his overall quality of life. Exercise is also vital to prevent arthritic joints from 'seizing up' and again to maintain muscle mass. Muscles cushion and support painful joints, and muscle loss has a detrimental effect on disease progression.
Every arthritic dog has his own limits, but you should gradually try to find the maximum amount of exercise your dog is able to tolerate. Start by walking your dog on a leash for ten minutes up to three times a day for a couple of weeks, then increase the length of the walk by five minutes every two weeks up to the point where he shows signs of being a little more stiff after rest. At this point reduce the duration of the walk to the previous level. Generally speaking, a dog with arthritis will not tolerate vigorous off-the-leash exercise so well.
Watch & Learn
Gently manipulating your dog's joints through their range of motion helps prevent loss of mobility and function, and gentle massage of muscles and joints has been shown to reduce the perception of pain in pets with arthritis. Don't worry if you're not a qualified veterinary physical therapist- as long as you do things gently and stop if your dog shows signs of discomfort or pain, you are not going to cause any harm. Your arthritic dog will enjoy the physical contact and the benefits it brings.
Ensuring your pet has a comfortable padded bed and is kept warm in the cooler seasons of the year can also have a positive impact on his levels of pain and stiffness. If you are beyond your mid-thirties, it is probably not difficult to imagine the difference in your own joints after a night in a comfortable bed compared to sleeping on a bare floor.
Mobility Aids For Arthritic Dogs
For many dogs with arthritis, simply walking around their own house can become increasingly difficult. Wooden and tiled floors are slippery and extremely difficult to negotiate for older pets, especially larger breed dogs. Keeping your dog's nails clipped short and providing rugs and mats wherever possible will help. Rubber nail covers are a great innovation. Easily fixed in place by glue, they help your dog maintain his footing and prevent slips and falls which can cause pain and injury, worsening his arthritic pain.
Similarly, helping your dog out of bed or from a position lying on the floor can help prevent slips and falls. Heavy large breed dogs may benefit from wearing a lift harness which will allow you to support him and to take some of his weight when rising from a lying position while minimising strain on your own spine and joints.
Dietary Supplements For Dogs With Arthritis
Before starting any other prescription or non-prescription medications for a dog with mild to moderate osteoarthritis owners should try one or both of the following dietary supplements.
Glucosamine & chondroitin sulfate: these substances are found in nature and belong to a family of nutraceuticals called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). They are components of cartilage, the ultra-smooth surface material found in healthy joints, and can promote joint healing. They also improve the quality of joint fluid, helping to lubricate the movement of painful stiff joints. The improvement in some arthritic patients treated with GAGs can be remarkable.
Fish oils high in omega-3 such as cod liver oil are used within your dog's body to produce natural anti-inflammatories which provide pain relief, as well as giving other benefits in nerve function which may be relevant in older dogs with loss of joint function. Whichever supplement you choose should provide around 250mg EPA/DHA (which are types of omega 3) per 10lb bodyweight.
These supplements are safe and can be very effective for many dogs, but should be used for around a month to see their full benefit.
Herbal Arthritis Remedies For Dogs
Of the herbs which have been used to treat canine arthritis, turmeric (curcumin), and Devil's Claw have proved the most effective in reducing pain, swelling and inflammation in degenerative joints. Turmeric should be dosed at around 1/4 of a teaspoon per 20lb bodyweight, added to food. The only real possible side effect is constipation, but providing plenty of fresh water will usually avoid this. Turmeric has also been shown to have many other beneficial effects in the body, and it appears it may even play a role in fighting cancer, although this requires further research.
Devil's Claw is a wonderful natural anti-inflammatory agent with proven efficacy in arthritis, but as it can interact with other prescription medications it is very important to inform your veterinarian that your pet is taking it if he is being prescribed any other drugs. The usual dose for this herbal arthiritis remedy is 250mg-100mg per dog per day.
Prescription Medications For Arthiritis
If your dog is in severe pain due to arthritis, or has failed to respond to any of the treatments discussed, you should talk to your veterinarian about prescription medication options. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids are the treatments most commonly prescribed. These drugs are undoubtedly effective in controlling pain and inflammation, but do not address the existing damage in your dog's joints and so are only part of your dog's treatment plan. Taking a holistic approach to treatment with weight control, physical therapy, GAG and possibly herbal supplementation should also be part of every dog's arthritis treatment.
Your veterinarian is the most appropriate person to discuss treatments for your individual dog, but ensure your dog (especially if elderly) is not displaying any signs of kidney disease before starting NSAID therapy.
Hip Replacement Therapy
Except for acute injuries such as cruciate ligament rupture, surgery for dogs with arthritis is usually reserved as a last resort. Hip, elbow, and knee replacements are now all routinely performed by specialist veterinary orthopedic surgeons for dogs with severely arthritic joints that are not responsive to other treatments.
While these surgeries are a massive undertaking, both in terms of interference with your pet and expense, a joint replacement can be a life-altering procedure for a pet with severe, debilitating pain due to arthritis.