Dogs are now living longer than ever. Many conditions, such as osteoarthritis (or degenerative/inflamed joints), occur with aging and can be difficult to manage. Your dog isn’t slowing down because it wants to take life at a more leisurely pace – it has painful joints! Recent advances in veterinary medicine and surgery have led to a wide variety of management options to help your pet be as pain free as possible!
*****This is a LONG post with no pictures. We realize this, but we want to express the breadth of options for arthritis pain management in dogs - there are SO many options at SO many price points! There is something for every dog - no dog should live with chronic joint pain!!!****
Weight management in older arthritic dogs is very important. Joints that are already sore and stressed are made worse when they have to support extra weight. And let's face it- our pet population is battling obesity just like the human population. The difference is, it is the humans who are making the dogs obese. Numerous studies have been done that show reducing weight leads to significant improvement in quality of life. Ease of activities such as climbing stairs, jumping into a car or truck, and even getting up from a sitting position can improve dramatically with weight loss.
Just like in people, exercise is vital for weight loss. Feeding less food alone simply decreases the resting metabolic rate. Exercise increases the rate and thus burns more calories. One of our goals is also to increase muscle mass. Providing 20-60 minutes a day of activity along with reduced calorie intake will help patients with osteoarthritis.
Controlled exercise is invaluable in treatment for patients with osteoarthritis. This helps improved function, reduced pain, and the need for medication.
Initially, an exercise program should avoid overloading the joints. Walking and swimming are excellent for starters. Exercise programs must be tailored for each dog and your dog should not be forced to exercise during times of pain, as this will increase inflammation.
Controlled leash walking, walking in water, jogging, swimming, and going up and down ramp inclines are excellent low impact exercises. Exercise should be monitored so there is no increased pain after the activity. In the early phases, it is better to do three 10 minutes sessions rather than one 30-minute session. The exercise can be daily or every other day. Walks should be brisk and purposeful, with minimal stopping. Swimming and walking in water are some of the best activities for dogs. The buoyancy of the water is significant and limits the impact on joints while promoting muscle strength, tone, and joint motion. There are several local swimming and underwater treadmill options for dogs - call us to find out more details!
Controlled exercise should not increase pain after an activity. If there is pain after an activity, the length of activity should be decreased by half. A 10-minute warm down period allows muscles to cool down. A slower paced walk for 5 minutes will do. Cold packs can be applied to painful joints for 15 minutes to control post-exercise inflammation.
There are many things you can do at home to help your dog with osteoarthritis. Keep your dog in a warm dry environment, away from cold and dampness. Use a soft, well-padded bed. Provide good footing to avoid slipping and falling. Carpet runners work well on hardwood floors. Minimize stair climbing by using ramps. You can purchase these from pet stores or make them yourself. Portable ramps are available to assist dogs getting in and out of cars. In addition to ramps, there are several really well made orthopedic harnesses available to help dogs with stairs and getting in and out of cars. Avoid overdoing activities on weekends and excessive play with other pets.
Non Pharmaceutical Treatment Options - great at any stage!
Assisi Loop – A battery operated FDA approved NPAID (non pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory device) that generates a weak electromagnetic field to activate the body’s own pain control and to help remove inflammation from the site. This is a noiseless, painless treatment that has been used since the 1960’s for non-healing broken bones and can be really helpful for painful joints. It can be rented or purchased at our office – treatments range from 1-4 15 minute sessions per day depending on level of pain.
Acupuncture - Acupuncture needles are placed near key nerves to send electrical signals to the brain and spinal cord, leading the brain to release its own substances to reduce pain, decrease swelling, promote a sense of relaxation, and balance body systems. Additionally, localized effects along with input from the brain and spinal cord will stimulate increased blood flow to targeted organs, muscles, and joints to help reduce pain and swelling. Acupuncture appointments typically last 30-40 minutes at our office.
Supplements and Medications for Arthritis Pain
Oral Supplements – Oral Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are the building blocks for good healthy cartilage and joint fluid which work to lubricate the joint. These daily supplements are sold by veterinarians and over the counter. Recommended brands: Phycox, Cosequin, Dasuquin, Synovi G3 or G4.
Essential Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oils) – These are anti-oxidants that work to help reduce joint inflammation naturally and as an added benefit will help improve skin and coat health. These daily supplements are available via prescription or over the counter.
Reseverestrol - This is a daily natural supplement that has become very popular in human arthritis recently. It is derived from grape seed extracts and has been shown to work at the gene expression level to help reduce the production of inflammatory factors that cause pain in arthritis. At this time, we only recommend the use of “PetThrive”, which is a prescription only product and safe for dogs.
Injectable Joint Supplements – While oral joint supplements provide building blocks for healthy joints, in some patients they are not absorbed in high enough concentrations to be effective. In these cases (or in dogs that cannot/will not take daily chews), injectable joint supplements like Adequan or Legend are beneficial.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) – These medications are the most common defense against existing arthritis pain and inflammation that does not respond to supplements alone. Human over the counter pain relievers/NSAIDS are NOT safe in dogs. DO NOT USE ALEVE, ADVIL, NAPROXIN, IBUPROFEN, TYLENOL, or other OTC human pain relievers in your dog. Aspirin can be used with caution in dogs, but for most dogs, the amount of aspirin needed to control the dog’s pain is enough to cause serious side effects like stomach bleeding and ulcers, so we do not generally recommend aspirin, even though OTC formulations exist for dogs. All NSAIDs that are safe for use in dogs are prescription only and include carprofen (Rimadyl), meloxicam (Metacam), and firocoxib (Previcox). Dogs that are on long term daily NSAIDs require periodic bloodwork to make sure their organs are functioning properly.
Narcotic Pain Relievers - For dogs that have pain beyond what supplements and NSAIDs can manage, morphine derivatives are available. We try to use these sparingly as the stronger narcotics can be habit forming in dogs just as they are in humans.
Nerve Pain Relievers or Muscle Relaxers - Medications used for nerve pain (like diabetic neuropathy or fibromyalgia) can be used in addition to supplements, NSAIDs, and Narcotics. Examples include Gabapentin. Muscle relaxers (like Methocarbamol) can help with spinal arthritis or muscle spasms.
Topical Pain Relievers - Sometimes mixtures of numbing agents and pain relievers can be made into a topical gel that absorbs through the skin to be placed locally on specific very painful joints. These medications must be used with care and gloves must be worn because they are absorbed through the skin.
Joint Injections – In severely affected joints, corticosteroids and/or hyaluronic acid can be injected directly into the joint to decrease local inflammation and pain as well as to boost the production of healthy joint fluid. Joint injections may last between 3 weeks to 6 months or more, depending on the severity of the inflammation and arthritis in the joint, which joint is involved, and the pain tolerance of the dog.