Canine arthritis treatment is usually divided into “surgical” and “medical” options, although sometimes both options are adopted for the best possible results.
This page focuses on the “medical” option of dog arthritis treatment.
By “medical”, it means more than using medication to treat osteoarthritis in dogs. “Medical” approach is multi-modal, involving the following five elements:
- Using canine pain medication for pain and inflammation relief.
- Using nutritional supplements to strengthen the joints.
- Using appropriate exercise to keep the joints flexible and prevent muscle atrophy.
- Using physical rehabilitation to increase mobility, strength, and range of motion.
- Managing and controlling the dog’s body weight.
Canine osteoarthritis is not curable, but designing and implementing a multi-modal treatment approach can greatly improve the condition of an arthritic dog, so that he can lead a better, more comfortable life longer.
Dog Arthritis Treatment – Medications
Medications for osteoarthritis in dogs include canine pain medication to control joint pain and lessen inflammation.
The most common dog pain medication being used is NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Sometimes stronger and more powerful drugs such as steoroids and even opiates might also be used.
In addition to pain control, some medications called chondroprotectants are available which can slow down the deterioration of osteoarthritis by preventing the cartilage from breaking down further. Dogs with osteoarthritis in ealier stages can see better results with these chondroprotectants.
One such chondroprotectant is Adequan, an injectable compound of polysulfated glycosaminoglycan (PSGAG), which is similar to glucosamine. It is given by intramuscular injection 2 times a week for 3 to 4 weeks.
Dog Arthritis Treatment – Nutritional Supplements
Nutritional supplements – nutraceuticals – are very commonly used as a complementary dog arthritis treatment.
These supplements are non-drugs; they contain naturally-occurring substances that can help treat arthritis in various ways. Most of these supplements have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The most common supplements used to treat canine osteoarthritis include:
- Chondroitin sulfate
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin C
Before giving your dog any of these supplements, it is advisable to check with your vet especially if your dog is already taking other medications.
In addition, since nutraceuticals are not regulated by the FDA, the quality and costs of nutritional supplements can vary quite a bit. Always choose supplements that are produced by reputable and reliable companies.
Supplements usually do not work as fast as medicines; they take at least a month or so to show positive effects.
Dog Arthritis Treatment – Exercise
Too much or too little can make osteoarthritis worse, but the right type and amount of exercise can benefit a dog with osteoarthritis greatly.
Exercise can help arthritic dogs in many ways, such as:
- Weight control
- Muscle strengthening
- Improvement of joint range of motion (i.e. the ability of a joint to move)
- Improvement of quality of life
Exercise that can benefit arthritic dogs include:
- Swimming: Swimming is the best exercise for arthritic joints – it eases the impact of exercise on cartilage while improving the joint range of motion and muscle mass.
- Walking: Controlled walking is a very useful exercise for dogs with osteoarthritis. Try to walk your arthritic dog on soft surfaces (such as grass) since they are gentler on cartilage. To increase joint range of motion, have your dog walk in high weeds. Strengthen your dog’s mucles by walking your dog up hills slowly.
Exercise to avoid include running (especially on hard surfaces) and playing such as fetching, chasing, jumping, and wrestling. These activities often involve sudden turns, twists, and stops that can stretch or tear the scar tissue around the dog’s arthritic joints.
Dog Arthritis Treatment – Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation in the form of physical therapy can greatly improve the quality of life of an arthritic dog. It can help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and pevent or limit permanent physical disabilities in the dog.
The scope of physical therapy can vary quite a bit, from very simple techniques (e.g. massage) to the use of sophisticated equipment.
Once the physical conditions of your dog are clear, your veterinarian can suggest or design the most appropriate rehabilitation program for your dog.
The three main target areas of rehabilitation are:
- Strength: Strength training can increase joint stability and prevent muscle atropy.
- Endurance: Endurance exercise, such as swimming and walking, put a low level of stress on the muscle but can help an arthritic dog slowly return to his normal level of exercise.
- Range of Motion: The ability of a joint to move is called its range of motion. Arthritis causes stiffness, making it difficult for an arthritic dog to do such activities as climbing stairs. Physical therapy can help the dog regain the normal range of motion and return to full function with less pain and stiffness.
The types of rehabilitation can be either “passive” (the dog patient does not have to do anything) or “active” (the dog patient actively participates in some form of activity).
Examples of passive rehabilitation include stretching and massage therapy, passive range of motion, cold/heat therapy, and electrical stimulation therapy.
Active rehabilitation usually include some form of exercise therapy, aquatic therapy, and gait training.
Dog Arthritis Treatment – Weight Control
Being overweight is the main factor that contributes to the worsening of the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
If the weight of your dog increases, so will the forces exerted on cartilage, bones, and soft tissues. Decreasing the body weight can decrease the forces on the joints, which in turn can slow down the degeneration and ease the day-to-day pain caused by osteoarthritis.
If your dog has arthritis and is overweight, work with your veterinarian to come up with a weight loss program for your dog, and stick to it.
Following the program and regular follow-up with your veterinarian are the two most important ways to guarantee the success of a weight loss program for your dog.