You may know that arthritis can affect people of all ages, even children. According to the Arthritis Foundation, “arthritis doesn’t discriminate.” So, the answer is yes, your dog can get arthritis too, and it may be even more common than you thought.
What is arthritis and how does it affect your dog?
Arthritis (joint inflammation), leads to decreased mobility and a negative impact on your dog’s quality of life. Arthritis can limit your dog’s physical activity and you may notice attitude or behavior changes. They may sleep more or have stiffness or soreness in one or more limbs. Fortunately, there are many ways to help them keep doing the things they love for as long as possible.
What can you do?
If you suspect your dog has arthritis, please schedule an appointment with a doctor. Please do not give your dog any medications without first speaking with your doctor.
The first, most important factor is weight management. Dogs that are heavy are more likely to develop arthritis and to have decreased mobility compared to similarly-affected healthy-weight dogs. Weight control starts at the end of puppyhood when the metabolism slows. Many dogs need less food as adults than they did as puppies. Feel the dog’s sides over the ribs. You will be able to feel the ribs easily when the dog is a healthy body weight.
Regular exercise is the next factor in controlling arthritis pain. Regular exercise keeps up muscle strength, and helps to prevent the “weekend warrior” syndrome. Dogs rarely will limit themselves on outings; they will just limp later. Regular exercise prevents trauma created when weak muscles are pushed too hard.
These are supplements that help to protect cartilage and reduce inflammation. Essential fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, ASU, and MSM are readily available as food supplements for dogs. Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG) is the active ingredient in Adequan, which is an injectable supplement for cartilage health. These products can slow the progression of arthritis and reduce the need for pain medications as arthritis advances.
Over time, arthritis can progress to osteoarthritis, which is when the bone itself changes. These changes lead to worsening pain as bone contacts bone and joint mobility is limited. Pain control is warranted at this stage.
Rehabilitation, massage, and acupuncture are all non-drug modalities for pain control. Rehabilitation reduces pain by rebuilding muscle, increasing flexibility, improving balance, and helping to maintain a healthy body weight.
An underwater treadmill is especially helpful because the warm water soothes and supports the body while providing resistance in a low-impact manner. Look for a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner for a customized treatment plan.
The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) class is the one which has the most immediate positive impact on function, but also has the greatest potential for side effects. Therefore, they need to be used carefully. Using as many of the agents already described as possible will reduce the dose of NSAID needed to bring the greatest improvement.
NSAIDs reduce pain by reducing inflammation. They can be used intermittently at first, just as needed for the bad days. But as the disease progresses, many dogs need to take them daily. They are most effective when started at the higher end of the dose range to bring the inflammation down, and then tapered to the lowest effective dose to keep it from flaring back up.
True analgesics (pain killers) are added to reduce the dose of NSAID and to work synergistically with NSAIDs. There are quite a few options, and each drug works a little differently. Just as for people, pain control is best achieved with a multi-modal approach, providing better comfort with lower doses of each agent.
The Home Environment
The final area of support is altering the physical environment. Avoiding stairs, adding ramps, using non-skin area rugs, keeping nails trimmed, and even using non-skid booties are all ways to improve traction and keep a dog independent longer. There are a variety of support slings and braces available for those dogs that need a little extra lift as well.
Combining elements of nutrition, medication, physical support and weight management can help an arthritic dog have many years of active life into their senior years.
To schedule an appointment, call us at 941-8840.
-Veazie Veterinary Clinic, article contributed by Julie C. Keene, MS, DVM, PhD