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 poor regulated with supplements only required to be safe but not effective. We recommend GLYDE powder or chews as this is the only product that contains high levels of all three supplements.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids (e.g. Fish oil) 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.
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.
Pentosan Polysulphate is an injectable drug that helps reduce pain and inflammation locally in the joints. A course of injections involves one, once a week for four weeks. If this is successful, the injections can be continued indefinitely monthly to three monthly. This is an extremely safe drug to use with very minimal side effects.
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. However, because of their potential systemic side effects such as kidney damage and gut ulceration, they should be avoided until absolutely necessary and used at the lowest doses possible. Kidney function and general health should be checked regularly if these drugs are in use.
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 organised 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.