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. However there is plenty you can do to reduce pain and inflammatory load on the joints.
For pets with early arthritis or those that may be pre-disposed to arthritis we recommend biannual vet checks to keep on top of their arthritis needs and the following management:
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. If you need help with weight management for your dog please let our staff know. Our vets will also give you an indication of your pet’s body condition.
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 and chondroitin sulphate are 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. What has been proven to be beneficial is the addition of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Our recommendations for Omega 3s supplementation is Antinol Rapid, a potent green-lipped muscle and krill oil supplement. Be wary of supermarket, human-grade supplements as these are often not appropriately balanced and don’t have high enough doses.
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 specific to your pet or see here for more information on supplements.
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. This should be continued every 6 months life-long.
All of the above still applies to those with more significant arthritis but there will come a time when you’ll need to add in some additional support. We recommend vet checks every 3 months once they are experiencing this level of arthritis to ensure we are managing their pain carefully.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are our drug of choice when patients are experiencing moderate arthritis. 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 regular blood screening will be required.
Whereby NSAIDs are not appropriate another daily medication may be recommended. 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.
Even if your pet is at a good body weight 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. Some of these may incorporate weight management into them also or allowance for concurrent disease processes. Speak to your vet about what would best suit your pet.
There are many alternative therapies now available for dogs to assist them with pain and arthritis such as stem cell therapy, laser therapy, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and acupuncture.
We recommend all our senior patients suffering from moderate to severe 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.
For more information or an appointment with Tim, please refer to his website Both Ends of the Lead or call on 0408 699 371.
Exercise & environment
Exercise is crucial in making sure all joints regularly 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. 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.
Severe arthritis should be managed carefully with regular visits to the vet and constant tweaking of pain relief and pain management. Quality of life is a concern at this point and you should be guided by your vet’s recommendations as to how your pet is coping with their arthritis.
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.