Osteoarthritis is inflammation of the bones and joints. There are very few older dogs that do not suffer from degenerative joint disease, which becomes inflamed. Dogs are now living longer, healthier lives, and are often very active even in their later years. This means wear and tear on all joints and progressive pain and discomfort. As they get older they find it more difficult to stand up, become slower on walks, and they may limp. Some animals will ‘warm out of it’ in warmer weather, but others remain lame. Often owners mistake osteoarthritis for general old age changes and do not realise the pain their animal is in.
In a small number of cases younger dogs can acquire osteoarthritis. This may be due to injury or a congenital problem.
What can you do?
Unfortunately there is no cure for osteoarthritis. Below are some options for keeping your pets pain-free. Any arthritis management should be multimodal meaning best results occur when different treatments are used concurrently.
These are components of food that have a pharmaceutical effect. That is, they are additives to the animal’s diet that may aid in reducing inflammation in the joints. It’s important to note these products take weeks to build up in the body and results are generally mild. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate and green lipped mussel powder are all products that are available for human and animal use. As of yet there is no solid evidence that they benefit arthritic patients and the industry is very poorly regulated with supplements only required to be safe but not effective. We recommend GLYDE powder or chews if you are looking for a triple combination product (i.e. Green lipped muscle, Glucosamine and Chondroitin).
Omega 3 essential fatty acids (e.g. Fish oils) have a proven effect on inflammation in the joint and are also known to prevent progression of arthritis. The dose is 50—100mg/kg/day i.e. a small dog could have a 500mg capsule once a day, whilst a large dog could have a 1000mg capsule (or two). The ratio of EPA (Eicosapentanoic acid) to DHA (docoseahexanoic acid) should be around 3:2 for best effect. Our recommendations for Omega 3s supplementation is Antinol Rapid, a potent green-lipped muscle and krill oil supplement.
Avoid flax seed oil. It’s readily converted to omega three acids in the human body but is very poorly converted in dogs and cats – only 10% converts. Fish oil is much more effective.
Polyphenols (e.g. Phycocyanin, Grape Seed Oil, Green Tea Extracts, Tumeric) can have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. As above these products are poorly regulated and it’s important if trying them you choose bioceutical grade versions. Speak to your vet for recommendations.
Synovan is an injectable drug given as a course of four injections weekly that help to reduce joint inflammation, prevent cartilage breakdown, aid in cartilage repair and increase joint lubrication. It is not cortisone. This is a great treatment option particularly early on in an arthritis plan due to the minimal side effects and low cost and is our number one recommendation for arthritis patients.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are also available and are used to reduce inflammation and pain systemically. These are generally dispensed as daily medication. Many older dogs end up on these drugs indefinitely as it becomes the only way to provide adequate pain relief. Due to potential systemic side effects such as kidney damage and gut ulceration, the vet will assess the dog and decide whether they can be used and will likely recommend a blood test to determine their kidney and liver function.
Please note human equivalents such as ibuprofen should NOT be used as they do not provide safe pain relief and can be potentially harmful. Speak to your veterinarian before giving your pet any human medications.
Opioid-like pain relief can also be provided in the form of a synthetic analogue called ‘Tramadol.’ This does not have anti-inflammatory effects but rather provides general pain relief. It is often used in conjunction with the above medications or when NSAIDs cannot be used due to concurrent disease. It works best when given with another daily medication. Other similar medications may also be used such as codeine.
Gabapentin is a medication particularly beneficial for neurologic or spinal pain as it alters how pain is transmitted in the spinal cord. It also has anti-anxiety effects. The dose range is quite varied so “trial and error” dosing is required to find the right fit for your pet.
Amantadine helps reduce wind up pain in which chronic pain has sensitised nerves to a point where experiences that should not normally be painful become painful. This can occur in dogs that have had unrelieved pain for quite some time. Sedation is the main side effect.
Exercise is crucial in making sure all joints regular carry out their full range of motion. Controlled exercise such as walks on leads or treadmills means you can make sure your dog is not working too hard. Swimming is an excellent non-weight bearing activity for arthritic patients.
Acupuncture and physiotherapy are now available for our pets. Your GP vet can provide you with more information.
Stem Cell therapy is a regenerative therapy whereby the patient’s own tissue is used, processed and injected into the patient’s joints. This is a reasonably new therapy and referral can be organized if you are interested.
Platelet Rich Plasma is a new treatment that involves harvesting the patient’s blood, extracting the plasma and injecting it back into the patient’s diseased joints. This plasma is packed with healing factors that aid in reducing inflammation. Although we do not perform this routinely at Thornleigh Vet Hospital, speak to us if you are interested.
Obesity is a common problem associated with arthritic dogs and only leads to further stresses on the joints. Keeping your dog slim and monitoring its diet will ease the pressure on joints and thus the associated pain. There are many commercial prescription diets available for arthritis such as Science Diet J/d which contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and other supplements. Alternatively a weight loss diet may be used with added supplements. Speak to your vet about what would best suit your pet.
The Home Environment
If you have floor surfaces that could be slippery or unstable for your dog, (such as wooden floorboards, tiles or vinyl floor surfaces) they can be a major injury risk for your dog as they become less stable and confident in their mobility.
If you allow your dog to jump up or get on and off furniture, it can be stressful on arthritic joints. Stairs and steps can become a real hazard in the home environment, which can lead to anxiety and insecurity when using them and may result in your dog potentially slipping and injuring themselves. So it’s important to be aware of the home environment for your senior dog and have some strategies to help keep them as safe as possible and reduce the risk of injury and pain for them.
Develop a ‘hands-on’ home care program for your dog.
We recommend all our senior patients suffering from osteoarthritis be assessed by our rehabilitation and senior care expert, Tim Norris of Both Ends of the Lead. Tim runs senior dog classes but also does private visits to empower you to give your pet the home care they need. Having some simple, effective strategies you can use safely at home can complement all of the above options for arthritis treatment and overall improve your dog’s quality of life. Many of our clients have seen considerable improvement in their dog’s mobility based on Tim’s advice.
Here are some of Tim’s suggested guidelines:
A simple Heat Pack or Wheat Pack can be very useful to relieve pain and soreness for your dog. Please make sure you test the temperature of the pack before you place it on your dog or place a towel between the pack and the dog if unsure.
Learning some gentle massage techniques can be a great way to relieve tight and sore muscles for your dog and help them move and feel better.
Gentle Joint Mobility Exercises help keep your dog’s joints healthy and mobile. It’s strongly recommended that you seek the guidance of your rehabilitation professional to show you how to safely perform these exercises.
Regularly performing some Gentle Strength & Conditioning Exercises for your senior dog is an effective way to help maintain strength and muscle tone and keep them stronger for longer.
This is crucial for a senior dog, so they can keep enjoying their day to day activities and maintain the best quality of life possible.
These home care suggestions will give you a great starting point to help your arthritic dog have the best quality of life possible and help ease many of the typical aches and pains common for dogs with Arthritis.
For more information or an appointment with Tim, please refer to his website Both Ends of the Lead or call on 0408 699 371.