Dog Arthritis Treatments

New arthritis treatments help aching dogs get back on their feet.

Murphy, a 13-year-old Collie who lives with the Rev. Cathey and Dr. Neil Rennick in Eat Troy, Wis., had always been a happy-go-lucky dog. He loved to romp in the yard and play with the couple’s three girls.

Two years ago, however, the Rennicks noticed Murphy was slowing down and in pain.

“He had trouble going up and down stairs,” said Cathey Rennick. “He lost use of his hind legs and sometimes the use of all of his legs. He collapsed and fell over.”

Murphy showed signs of arthritis, believed to affect 20 percent of dogs in the United States. With well cared-for dogs living longer, more cases of age-related degenerative joint disease – the most common form of arthritis – are being treated. Fortunately, Murphy’s symptoms surfaced around the time treatment options began to expand. Two years ago veterinarians mostly treated pain with anti-inflammatory or analgesic drugs, or surgical removal of the ball part of the ball-and-socket hip joint or fusion of elbows or wrists to stop painful motion. Today new drugs and holistic supplements reduce inflammation and pain, and treat the underlying cause: the damaged cartilage.

Healthy cartilage gives the bones of a joint a smooth surface to glide across. But if the cartilage is deprived of blood because of joint stress or injury, it becomes inflamed damaged, eroded and roughened. This starts a cycle of damage to the cartilage and other joint tissues. Rough, abnormal bone builds up around the joint and adds to the pain and swelling.

Several factors increase a dog’s risk. Injuries and genetic disorders such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and luxating patellas (loose dislocating knees) can predispose a joint to arthritis.

Other factors include wear and tear due to inappropriate or excessive exercise and joint instability from injuries to supporting connective tissues, such as anterior cruciate ligament tears – a common knee injury in dogs. Abnormal conformation, such as the straight lower back leg of breeds such as Chow Chows, can also put a dog at risk.

A large dog also may be at greater risk because of its rapid growth from puppyhood. “A dog that’s going to be five pounds when it’s fully mature and a dog that’s going to be 100 pounds are essentially going to mature in that same year,” said Susan Weiss, president of Ark Naturals, a manufacturer of natural supplements in Naples, Fla. “It’s not easy for a dog to become 100 pounds in that same 12-month cycle. It absolutely affects their joints and ligaments.”

Until recently, veterinarians would suggest obese animals lose weight and restrict exercise to prevent joint strain, said Spencer Johnston. DVM, a small-animal orthopedic surgeon and associate professor at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg. Va. “Then they would be treated with an anti-inflammatory or analgesic drug such as aspirin, phenylbutazone or meclofenamic acid.”

But other arthritis relief products have been enhanced, introduced or m ade widely available in the United States.

And not a moment too soon for the Rennicks, who could not tolerate seeing their dog in pain. “He was hurting so much one day, he couldn’t even lift his head,” Cathey Rennick said.

With their veterinarian, they explored the myriad treatment options available.

Among the most widely prescribed new medicines are:

  • Carprofen,an oral nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that reduces joint inflammation and pain when administered twice daily. Rare side effects have included gastrointestinal disturbances, adverse kidney reactions, nervous system reactions and liver problems, but the product is safe for long-term use.
  • Etodolac, also an oral NSAID that reduces joint inflammation, needs to be administered only once a day. Side effects may include vomiting, lethargy and diarrhea.
  • Polysulfated glycosaminoglycan, an osteoarthritis drug for controlling the signs of canine arthritis, reduces painful inflammation and inhibits cartilage-degrading enzymes while restoring the degraded synovial fluid (the lubricating fluid around joint cartilage) and stimulating production of cartilage matrix components to repair damaged cartilage.

Veterinarians administer polysulfated glycosaminoglycan by injection twice weekly for four weeks. Beneficial effects reportedly have lasted six months or longer. Adverse reactions, such as injection-site pain, diarrhea and abnormal bleeding, have been rare, mild and transient. 

Holistic treatments, including acupuncture, chiropractic care, homeopathy, Chinese traditional medicine and nutritional and herbal supplements, also may help control inflammation and pain, and stimulate the body’s healing processes.

Some popular supplements include:

  • Shark cartilage tablets.Shark cartilage is believed to strengthen bones and increase joint mobility in two to four weeks when taken as a regular dietary supplement.
  • Glucosamine hydrochloride.Produced naturally in the body, gluocosamine is thought to help relieve arthritis symptoms by rebuilding the synovial fluid and offering protection from protease enzymes that degrade cartilage. Glucosamine is often matched with other ingredients such as anti-inflammatory botanicals and chondroitin sulfate.
  • Anti-inflammatory botanicals.These include bosellian extract, turmeric, bromelain, yucca and granular greens, such as wheat sprouts.
  • Essential fatty acids,including omega-6 and omega-3, believed to be effective anti-inflammatories.
  • Chondroitin sulfate and mucopolysaccharides,natural substances (such as shark cartilage) found in connective tissue of animals, thought to enhance joint lubrication and rebuild cartilage.

Although holistic remedies typically have few side effects, manufacturers recommend veterinary consultation to avoid conflicts with traditional medications or chronic conditions.

Research indicates diet may also help arthritis. A new commercial diet from Iams containing glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate, and optimal levels of vitamins and minerals to promote the body’s natural production of synovial fluid and cartilage offers a preventive approach. Reduced fat levels help maintain an optimal weight and minimize stress on susceptible joints. Balanced fatty acids support the natural healing process.

Owners may alleviate an arthritic dog’s pain in some low-tech ways, too. Of utmost importance is weight reduction, which prevents and treats degenerative joint disease. Additionally, owners can:

  • Engage their dogs in regular moderate exercise.Swimming is especially favorable, because it maintains muscle mass without stressing arthritic joints.
  • Make a dog’s sleeping arrangements warm and cozy.Apply heat in the form of a warm water bottle or towel over affected joint areas. Warm clothes also are recommended when it’s cold outside.
  • Massage the sore areawith gentle, circular motions.
  • Raise water and food bowlsoff the floor or purchase an elevated feeding system so the dog doesn’t have to lower its head.
  • Install ramps to help dogs climb stairs.For a dog having trouble, sling a towel underneath its belly.

Drug and holistic remedy manufacturers continue to study more products. “I think we will see further studies with agents that are considered safer,” Dr Johnston said. “With the chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine products…more information should become available to us on those and how effective they are and under what conditions they should be used.

“I also believe more nonsteroidal products will become available to us as various drug companies discover the market in veterinary medicine.”

The Rennicks attempted some over-the-counter approaches, that primarily center on buffered aspirin, before deciding on carprofen. While the drug makes their Collie sleepy for about an hour after he takes the drug, Cathey Rennick has seen no other side effects.

Although the drug is expensive on their budget, Cathey wanted to keep Murphy pain-free: “Fifty dollars a month isn’t much to spend for a puppy who has been such a good watch dog and faithful friend.”


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