Frequently Asked Questions About Canine Arthritis: Facts From a Veterinary Expert
While there is no cure for canine arthritis, there are many things that you can do to help your best friend feel better and enjoy life more. In this exclusive interview, Dr. Cathy Alinovi, owner of Hoofstock Veterinary Services and certified veterinary food therapist, shares her tips and expertise on the topic of treating arthritis in dogs.
Dr. Cathy Alinovi, DVM
Arthritis in Dogs FAQs
Donna Cosmato (DC): Please define canine arthritis in plain English for our readers.
Dr. Cathy: “Arth” means joint, and “itis” means inflammation. Arthritis is a painful inflammation of the joints. It can be any joint; even the jaw, ribs, the foot or the more commonly seen hip, as in hip dysplasia.
DC: What causes arthritis in dogs?
Dr. Cathy: While the list of causative factors is long, some typical causes are looseness in the joint that leads to hip dysplasia, Lyme disease, and an inflammatory diet (usually stemming from commercial feed sources).
DC: What clinical signs should owners watch for?
Dr. Cathy: Be on the alert for licking one spot, changes in movement, changes in behavior (some dogs get cranky), slowing down, manifesting pain the day after vigorous exercise.
DC: How many types (or degrees) are there?
Dr. Cathy: The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals scores dogs’ hips for looseness in the hip joint. Scores range from excellent to fair (normal), borderline, and mild to severely dysplastic. However, one dog with severe dysplasia may have little pain or movement restriction where another dog with mild changes will have severe pain. Many factors go into true symptomatology.
DC: What are the most common contributing factors?
Dr. Cathy: These would be large breed dogs, overweight dogs, and genetic lines from parents who developed arthritis.
DC: Are there canine populations that are at a higher risk?
Dr. Cathy: Yes, those would be Labradors, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dachshunds, Pekinese, Bulldogs and Boxers.
DC: How is canine arthritis diagnosed?
Dr. Cathy: The most common method is radiographs, and it is done under sedation typically as movement of the joint into position can be uncomfortable.
DC: What is the prognosis for a dog with canine arthritis?
Dr. Cathy: This depends on how soon you catch it and how compliant the owner is. I have patients whose owners will not try to help the animal get the weight off so nothing really helps. On the other hand, I have patients whose owners do everything that I advise and find that we extend their dogs’ life and comfort for months to years.
What type of treatment methods have you tried to alleviate your dog's arthritis pain?
Treatment and Side Effects FAQs
DC: What are the most common treatment methods?
Dr. Cathy: The tried and true triad of weight control, controlled exercise, and anti-inflammatory medication.
- In the NSAID family, the most commonly prescribed names are Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and Previcox.
- A vet may also prescribe steroids or neutraceuticals such as Glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM and omega fatty acids
- Other treatment methods are Tramadol, which is a non-narcotic opiate or newer pain meds such as gabapentin, buprenorphine and amantidine.
- Finally, there are injections—into either the joint or the muscles—chondroitins, and steroids in the joint or laser therapy.
DC: Are there any natural remedies used for treatment of arthritis in dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Several natural remedies can be employed such as:
Laser therapy: I refer to this as crossover because both Westerner and alternative practitioners use laser therapy as a treatment modality. It increases blood flow and removes inflammatory mediators faster.
Chiropractic: By restoring the mobility in the joint, the body inhibits pain directly at the spinal cord to make the arthritic patient more comfortable.
Acupuncture: Stimulates the nerve response in the body to inhibit pain and improve mobility and flexibility. There is excellent research with acupuncture, which shows it stimulates the body to release natural pain relievers like endorphins.
Herbs: I recommend Bromelain or herbal blends like Body Sore from Jing Tang Herbal
Homeopathics: Arnica, Traumeel/Zeel
Massage: Works similarly to chiropractic and acupuncture
DC: What are the known side effects or negative reactions to the treatment methods?
Dr. Cathy: Some commonly seen side effects broken down by categories are:
- NSAIDS: Vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, kidney or liver damage, or reduced appetite may be experienced.
- Steroids: Increased thirst and appetite, panting, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, delayed wound healing. Steroids may also cause the same side effects as the NSAIDs do.
- Neutraceuticals: Intestinal upset
- Other medications: Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, and some of the same side effects as other medications.
- Alternative methods: There have not been many side effects reported. Sometimes with chiropractic, a dog will feel so much better that he or she does too much and has a bit of muscle tenderness the next day.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight Is Important for Dogs With Arthritis
What to Do When Your Best Friend is Hurting
DC: What can owners do to make their pets more comfortable?
Dr. Cathy: Everything that reduces inflammation makes the arthritic patient feel better.
Feed them healthy food (half meat, half veggies – people food). Help your pet achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Take them for walks. Massage the affected areas with a hand held vibrating massager like those designed for tired human muscles. Apply warm heat.
When pain relief is necessary, use just enough to relieve the pain but not so much that negative effects occur.
DC: What are the top three tips you have for owners of arthritic dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Good question! Here's my top three recommendations for owners:
- Transition the dog to a natural food diet or even the more traditional canine raw feeding as quickly as possible.
- Motion is good and inhibits pain so I’d advise them to take the animal for chiropractic care on a routine basis.
- If needed based on the level of pain, I’d prescribe or recommend herbs or some traditional Western drugs. I try to do as little as possible to get the dog the best comfort possible. My philosophy is to medicate as sparingly as possible.
All pharmaceuticals are wonderful and they can do great things, but given day after day, anti-inflammatory medication becomes pro-inflammatory. For instance, in a situation where Rimadyl used to work, several years later the owner might report that it no longer seems to be working.
It could be making things worse and causing problems in the intestines. There is a huge amount of document that the continued use of NSAIDS can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and death (in humans). That’s the reason Celebrex was taken off the market.
Yet, we continue to prescribe these drugs for our dogs, and I do not think it is in the best interests of their health because it compromises their kidneys and liver. I want them here and comfortable for as long as possible with as little done to them as possible.
DC: What have I forgotten to ask you that my readers might want to know?
Dr. Cathy: An important thing not to do is do not use human pain relievers because many can be toxic or even fatal.
Some owners take some extraordinary measures. Joint replacement, just as is done in humans – hip replacement, and pelvic reconstruction type surgeries are the most common ones.
Meet the Expert: Dr. Cathy Alinovi
In her own words, her specialty “ended up being a joke when I was in chiropractic and it went something like this:
You answer the phone ‘Last Hope Veterinary Hospital’ because people come to alternative practitioners when they have no other hope left. They have exhausted every possible alternative with Western medicine so they think, ‘Well, let’s give it one more shot and try some alternative stuff.”
Nutrition is key: In addition to using the chiropractic approach, I learned all about food and soon realized something crucial about commercial pet food. These foods are manufactured and formulated with the best intentions, and owners who use these foods really think that they are doing the best thing for their pets. However, they could be risking the development of future problems such as creating lots of inflammation, which could lead to problems like arthritis.
I think where I really spend most of my time with my clients is on nutrition; I treat eighty percent of the clients that come through my office door with nutrition. I teach the owners what is in the food and what it does to the animals (and to them) and suggest they use a higher quality of food.
Nutrition is affordable: Many people feel like they cannot afford the extremely high quality kibble (which is still extremely processed). However, what I discovered while writing our cookbook about healthy meals for dogs and cats is it cost about half the price to make our recipes than to purchase regular commercial dog food (not the premium kibble).
Plan for better nutrition: Homemade dog food is healthier because it is not processed, extruded or changed by heat. You do have to find time in your schedule to prepare it, but like anything else, you have to weigh the risk versus the reward.
Want to read more of Dr. Cathy's advice? Check out her interview answers on the topic of canine inflammatory bowl disease (IBD).
About Dinner PAWsible
Authors Dr. Cathy Alinovi and Susan Thixton, aka the Caped Crusader for Safe Pet Food, have done a masterful job of creating a cookbook—Dinner PAWsible—that is chockfull of easy-to-prepare, healthy meals for your pampered pet.
Imagine serving your best friend Chili dog food or your finicky cat Steak and Oysters cat food. Each of the recipes makes a meal that is tasty and nutritiously balanced for the health of your dog and cat.
The recipes include the nutrition information for one serving broken down into categories such as protein, fat, and calories. Most include a photo of the finished creations, which look good enough for any human to eat. There is lots of valuable information about how to select, prepare and store the meats and other ingredients as well as a helpful hint at the end of each recipe.
Dr. Alinovi is trained in homeopathy as well as a wide range of alternative medicine disciplines such as chiropractic and acupuncture. Susan Thixton is a well-known author and speaker on the topic of pet food safety.
Skype interview with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, 01/11/2012
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