Arthritis is a chronic, painful condition that has a number of negative consequences. Arthritic pets tend to be less active, and tend to gain weight. Lack of exercise leads to loss of muscle. Sometimes the pain of arthritis can be debilitating to the point where euthanasia is the humane option.
We need to try to slow down the progression of the changes and keep arthritic pets comfortable and mobile.
Initial recommendations for arthritic dogs
Excess weight is probably the number one risk factor in the development of arthritis for most pets. Any pet that is not slim is experiencing unnecessary impact on the joints, which causes further damage and accelerates the progression of the disease. Dogs with weight problems may need a medically managed diet in order to lose weight. Please talk to a member of the AMH staff if you have questions regarding weight loss for your dog.
These are nutraceuticals that may slow the progression of arthritic disease. Glucosamine has been shown to work better in conjunction with chondroitin and MSM. There are many commercially available products with these combinations. They are usually dosed based on the glucosamine content, at roughly 500 mg on glucosamine per 10 kg body weight per day. A 30 kg (65 lb) dog would get 3 capsules a day. Another product that my clients have (anecdotally) found to be useful is Recovery SA, which you can find at most pet stores. It contains glucosamine, chondroitin and herbal arthritis remedies like devil's claw, and may be more appropriate for dogs that actually have clinical arthritis.
Salmon oil contains docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), two anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to be of benefit in arthritis. Salmon oil should be given daily. It is dosed on the EPA content, at 100-180 mg of EPA per 10 pounds body weight.
Commercial diets specifically formulated to address joint health
Examples include Royal Canin Mobility These diets contain several supplements (including glucosamine and chondroitin). They are not cheap foods (no prescription diets are) but if you add up the monthly expense of a regular dog food, glucosamine/chondroitin/MSM supplements, and salmon oil capsules, the food generally comes in lower. You have the added advantage that you don't have to remember to give your dog pills or powders with each meal. Just remember to feed him!
Arthritic dogs should exercise as much as they can tolerate without becoming lamer. Avoid repetitive, pounding exercise like jogging. Swimming is excellent low-impact exercise that helps to strengthen muscle and also aids in cardiovascular fitness.
Arthritic joints often respond well to heat. BE CAREFUL to apply only dry heat, and be extremely careful not to burn your pet. Never use electric heating pads. If grain-filled warming bags are used, do not overheat them. The right temperature is that which you can tolerate on your skin for 5 minutes without being uncomfortable. Some dogs do really well with a couple of towels warm from the dryer applied to their aching areas. The heat source can be applied for 15-20 minutes at a stretch.
More advanced arthritis with chronic pain
Anti-inflammatories and pain medication (meloxicam, deracoxib, firocoxib)
These are COX-2 specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They act on the inflammatory pathways, and are also very good analgesics (pain killers). Inflammation is the body's response to injury. It can be a good thing in some cases, and can aid in healing. But in arthritis it can actually cause more damage to the joints. Inflammation causes heat, swelling, and pain in the joints. Controlling inflammation may decrease the rate at which arthritis progresses by decreasing further damage to the joint components.
Meloxicam comes as a liquid (for dogs under 35 kg) or a tablet for larger dogs. Deracoxib is a chewable tablet. Either drug should be given with food, or can be given by mouth directly after a meal. They are given once a day. To minimize the risks of side effects, DO NOT go over the maximum dose stated on the bottle.
NEVER give any medications to your dog at home without consulting your veterinarian. Over the counter arthritis drugs such as ASA, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can have serious (even fatal) adverse effects when given in conjunction with meloxicam or deracoxib. Ask your veterinarian first! Don't risk your dog's life!
WARNING! DERACOXIB FLAVOR CHEWS ARE EXTREMELY PALATABLE, MEANING THAT YOUR DOG WILL ENJOY EATING THEM. Normally this is a good thing in regard to medication, but these flavor chews can be so tasty that the dog will want to eat the whole bottle at a time. This can have disastrous consequences. Store your prescriptions carefully, in a locked cabinet or a place that the dog cannot reach.
Cartrophen (pentosan polysulfate) injections
Cartrophen is a disease-modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD). These are drugs that help sustain the remaining cartilage in the joints, stimulates the production of lubricating joint fluid, stimulates the production of antioxidants in the joint, and in these ways may decrease the rate at which the arthritis progresses. Some pets respond very well to weekly or monthly injections.
Additional analgesics, medical treatments
The goal in pets with advancing arthritis is to keep them comfortable and as pain-free as possible. To that end we will often prescribe ancillary drugs for dogs that are no longer maintained by NSAIDs and DMOADs. These drugs include tramadol, amantadine, gabapentin and s-adenosyl methionine (SAMe).