Arthritis afflicts anywhere from 30- 70% of older dogs, depending on where you read.  Arthritis can afflict any joint in the body, especially Knees, Hips, and Elbows.  Spinal arthritis is also common and can look like hip  or even neurologic disease.

Most of us recognize the signs of arthritis in dogs:  Difficulty standing, pulling forward to stand, difficulty sitting down, less activity.  Other subtle signs can appear, too:  weight shifting off the affected limb or limbs (like weight shifting forward to relieve hip/ knee pain), decreased energy, decreased appetite.  Your veterinarian’s keen eye and thorough orthopedic exam can often determine the location of arthritis pain.  Radiographs of the suspected joints can determine the severity of disease, especially when the clinical exam findings don’t exactly match the dog’s symptoms. (It is VERY common for pet owners and even veterinarians to assume dogs have hip arthritis when the problem is really in the knees or spine!– X-rays are the only way to know for sure!)

There are lots of treatment options available for dogs with osteoarthrtis pain, depending on the severity of disease and the dog’s tolerance for pain.  Many dogs show signs of severe degenerative joint disease, but seem relatively comfortable.  Other dogs show lameness before radiographic signs of disease are present.

Conservative measures start at home.  *Gentle Exercise to muscles limber, without over burdening the joints.  *Heat to help stiffness and *Cool packs to help swelling/ heat in a joint.  *Massage and manipulating the joint while the pet is resting help to improve circulation, range of motion and healing while reducing stiffness and pain.  *Swimming is a great form of exercise for arthritic patients.

Physical Therapy such as underwater treadmill, exercise sessions on balls and stairs are newer modalities being used to help dogs with arthritis pain. These methods are helpful in maintaining strength and agility in a controlled, non-jarring fashion.  Also new on the Physical Therapy front are Cold (or “Low Level”) Laser Light Therapy which reduces the pain associated with swelling and inflammation while improving circulation and decreasing nerve sensitivity!

Nutritional Supplements (sometimes called Neutraceuticals) are very helpful.  Since they provide a means of helping to keep the joints as healthy as possible with relatively few side effects, they are very popular.  (See more on Neutraceuticals- what’s really worthy.)  High potency Omega 3 FAtty Acids, especially the “EPA” (eicosapentanoic acid) fraction have been determined to be anti-inflammatory at a dose of about 20 mg/ lb.  These fatty acids will replace inflammatory fatty acids used as cell wall building blocks over time, creating happier cells throughout the body, so they are good for almost everythign that may ail an aging pet.  Glucosamine and Chondroitin have been used for a long time to help humans and pets with joint disease.  Pick your product wisely as most over-the-counter products are poorly absorbed by the body– mostly getting eliminated and never helping.  Veterinarians prefer products made by the Nutramax company for the attention to manufacturing that they use in their Gluc/ Chond products. (Learn more here).  You can feel confident that the money you spend on these products is helping as much as possible and not just going “down the drain”– or in the backyard!  The recommended dose for joint effect is also around 20 mg/ lb– a lot more than is labeled on most products– read your labels!  Numerous other anti-nflammatory herbs and spices ( yucca, turmeric, etc) and neutraceuticals are available — with less science behind them, but they may help some patients , and probably won’t hurt.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIds) are commonly prescribed by veterinarians to help alleviate the inflammation that causes a lot of the pain in osteoarthritis.  The NSAIDs available by prescription, from vets, are more potent and safer for dogs than human over-the-counter products.  Pet store over-the-counter products claiming to have aspirin or other NSAIDs in them are usually ineffective.  There are several presciption NSAIDs available for dogs now.  Your veterinarian can make suggestions based on your pet’s medical history, stage of disease, and convenience of dosing.

Pain killers are reserved for those patients whose arthritis has progressed to the point that simply relieving inflammation no longer relieves the pain.  There are now a number of pain medications being used in dogs to augment the pain relieving effects of NSAIDs.  Your veterinarian can recommend this type of medication based on your pet’s pain level and the location of the osteoarthritis (as different medications work better at different locations).

Stem Cell Therapy is a very new (this year!), promising therapy for some patients.  When pluripotent fat cells, harvested from the patient, are injected into affected joints, they are supposed to turn into the types of cells that are needed, resolving some signs of arthritis.  This technology is still in its infancy and is still controversial, but it’s showing terrific promise!  Watch for more information on this technology as it evolves!

From a hot pack to physical therapy, neutraceuticals to narcotics, dogs have never had more options for arthritis pain management.  Gone are the days when veterinarians so commonly had to euthanized pets for arthritis so severe that they couldn’t walk any more.  Recent breakthroughs in osteoarthritis treatment modalities in the last 5 years help us keep our dog-friends more comfortable and active than ever before!

Bring your “slowing down” dog to your veterinarian for an Arthritis Consult to help him live the most comfortable, fullest life possible!