Managing Arthritis In Your Dog
Osteoarthritis is a chronic degenerative joint disease that affects the soft tissues and bones of a joint, in particular the wear and tear of cartilage.
This causes pain and stiffness in the affected joints.
Untreated pain increases the sensitivity to further pain and can produce profound effects on the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and renal system, as well as causing behavioural changes such as aggressive behaviour, thus severely impacting on the quality of life.
Osteoarthritis can be caused by many factors including previous trauma, inflammation or infection to a joint, obesity, congenital deformities, abnormal conformation as well as old age. Studies have estimated that osteoarthritis affects 1 out of 5 adult dogs. Dogs of any breed, size, weight or age can show signs of osteoarthritis but there is also a greater incidence of osteoarthritis in older dogs, as well as larger breeds such as Labradors, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Great Danes and St Bernards.
How To Recognise Osteoarthritis In Your Pet?
Dogs may be unable to speak but they can express signs of pain. An arthritic pet can show one or several of the following signs:
- Decreased activity level and lethargy
- Change in character
- Difficulty getting into cars and onto furniture
- Difficulty in climbing up stairs
- Difficulty rising from a sitting/lying position
- Licking or pawing affected joints
- Muscle shrinkage
Affected joints may swell up and feel warm to the touch. The dog may also resent being touched around the affected joints and may vocalize, snap or hide. Arthritis can affect one joint or multiple joints.
- Diagnostic Tests
The Vet may perform an orthopaedic examination and take radiographs to diagnose osteoarthritis. In some instances, the Vet may recommend and perform surgery to correct an abnormal joint conformation, which contributes to or causes arthritis in the joint.
- Weight Control
Obesity aggravates osteoarthritis by placing excess weight on the affected joints, causing more pain and further damage. Keeping your dog in its ideal weight is the first step in preventing and controlling arthritis.
Regular gentle exercise helps maintain mobility, as joints that do not have regular movement may stiffen up. Exercise also helps in maintaining the ideal weight in your pet, improving muscle strength and range of motion.
Frequent, short and gentle walks on even surfaces are recommended over excessively vigorous activities that can instead cause more damage to the joint. Swimming is suitable alternative as it is non-weight bearing on joints.
Choose activities that suit your pet’s health status and age.
Start at a low level of exercise as you track your dog’s progress.
Instead of one long extended exercise session of say an hour, divide it into three shorter sessions of 20min each with rest periods in between. This way you get the same level of exercise, but without ever over-tiring the muscles which support the joints.
- Cartrophen Injections
is a disease modifying osteoarthritis drug (DMOAD) that works to retard the progression of arthritis. It relieves pain and lameness and dramatically increases the range of pain free movement by treating the underlying disease processes.
Cartrophen is given as a once weekly injections for four weeks. Eight out of 10 pets respond favourably and quickly to the initial course with an increase in activity and wellbeing.
A full course of the four shots is recommended for full benefit.
Three months after the treatment, your vet should assess your dog’s progress again, as booster shots may be required. Your Vet will adjust these shots so that the frequency of treatment achieves the optimum results.
The two main objectives of a nutritional program are to maintain a healthy weight and to provide the essential nutrients that promote healthy joints for a dog with arthritis.
There are commercial products such as Hills J/d
diets, which are specifically tailored for dogs with arthritis.
They provide complete balanced nutrition and are safe to use long term, even for other dogs in the household without arthritis.
It is highly recommended to feed your dog with one of these products exclusively to control their arthritis.
contains natural cartilage nutrients glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, which help promote healthy cartilage and keep joints flexible. It is also low in calories and contains L-carnitine for efficient fat burning and weight management as well as a high level of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA) to help promote healthy joints.
is also low in calories and contains a higher level of antioxidants with vitamins E and C, selenium and beta-carotene for a healthy immune system.
With arthritis, destructive enzymes are produced that destroy cartilage. By providing certain nutrients, you can help slow down the progression of arthritis and encourage healthy cartilage repair and replacement. Even if you opt to continue feeding your dog its usual diet, you can still supplement its food with the following nutrients.
- Omega-3 fatty acid (EPA) blocks the genes that produce cartilage-destroying enzymes. Supplements such as Paws & Claws Fish Oil capsules and Nutricoat liquid are available.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulphate are major components of normal cartilage. They are the building blocks of healthy cartilage. Chondroitin sulphate also blocks the enzymes that break down cartilage. Flex Powder supplement or SeaFlex Chews available
These supplements may take some time before you notice an improvement in your dog’s condition. An initial treatment period of 4-6 weeks at the maximum dose is recommended to load up your dog’s joint with as much of the nutrients as possible. Some dogs may develop a mild gastrointestinal upset when started on these supplements.
Other feeding tips include
- Feeding your dog the correct and recommended amount of food.
- Divide the daily food allocation into several small meals and provide throughout the day. This will help reduce hunger and begging.
- Avoid snacks or treats. When your pet begs, respond with play or praise, not a treat.
- Feed all meals from your pet’s bowl.
- Isolate your pet when the family eats, to reduce begging and the temptation to give your pet a treat.
- Provide your dog with plenty of clean fresh water at all times.
- Follow a routine feeding schedule.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory products are used to reduce pain and inflammation.
Your vet may prescribe NSAIDS for a short period of time at the beginning of the treatment plan. Their main effect is analgesics ie painkillers.
As the disease progresses you will need to use these drugs more regularly.
There are several products, and several formulations such as tablets or liquids are available.
- Stem Cell Therapy
Stem Cell therapy is now available and is looking promising as a treatment for the pain associated with arthritis. Stem cells can be harvested from the fat cells of a dog and then injected into the arthritic joints. This is done as a day surgery procedure at our hospital. It is a safe non-drug therapy that gives s long lasting benefits.
Keep your dog as dry as possible and out of draughty areas.
Provide a warm comfortable place to sleep with plenty of bedding to protect sore joints. Deep cushion type beds are better than a trampoline type bed.
You may also like to provide a ramp with a gentle slope or a ‘step-up’ cushion to ease access of your dog to some areas.
Gentle massage and application of a warm compress to affected joints and surrounding muscles can prove beneficial in some instances.
Your Treatment Plan
Arthritis is a chronic degenerative disease, it does not happen overnight.
This means it takes time to develop and in general cannot be cured.
Rather treatment is designed to slow down its progression and make your pet more comfortable.
Often there is an acute flare-up episode that first alerts you to the condition.
Even after this has subsided, the chronic underlying condition is still present.
You need to treat the acute phase with immediate pain relief but also institute other strategies to deal with the chronic underlying condition.
Most of the Arthritis that we see in dogs has a Genetic basis. This includes Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia and Cruciate disease. By the time that you have purchased your dog this is already out of your control, it is in the dogs DNA. This is called the Genotype of the dog.
What you can control however is how that genetic information is expressed. This is called the Phenotype of the dog or the Phenotypic Expression.
By this we mean things like exercise, weight control and nutrition. Dogs that are kept lean throughout life are far less likely to develop arthritis than dogs that are overweight.
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
As a result we advise that you should try to treat the chronic underlying arthritis by using some combination of, or preferably all of the following:
- Weight loss
- Controlled Exercise
- Fish Oil supplement
- Glucosamine/Chondroitin supplement
- Cartrophen injections
These treatments fundamentally improve the joints and as a result will help to relieve the pain. They do however take time to work.
Despite this there will be acute episodes that need immediate attention, and in these cases the only drugs that really work are the NSAIDs.
As the degree of arthritis progresses, the amount of time that NSAIDs are needed may increase.
The newer NSAID drugs are much safer than older type NSAIDs like Aspirin, and can be used everyday if that becomes necessary.
Discuss with the Vet a treatment plan that is most suitable for you and your pet.