What is arthritis?
As the word suggests, arthritis is joint inflammation. This results in stiffness, pain, and degenerative changes in the joint. In older dogs arthritis can develop as part of the aging process, but even young dogs can develop arthritis as a result of an inherited condition such as hip dysplasia, joint injury, immune or metabolic disorders, or infection. Larger breeds, and dogs that are overweight, are a particularly high risk group.
Arthritis is a progressive degenerative disease and it's a problem that won't go away by being ignored. It is a bad news in the canine quality of life department. While causes can be many, outcome is one and the same.
How can I tell if my dog has arthritis?
Some conditions and injuries, such as hip dysplasia, patella luxation or ACL injuries all come with arthritis hot on their heels. When dealing with these conditions you should also take steps towards dealing with the resulting arthritis.
Any degree of lameness or stiffness, reluctance or difficulty to get up, run or climb the stairs, decreased alertness and interest in daily activities, behavioral changes - these all can be signs of arthritis. Often these signs are thought of as normal aging. But do dogs really 'mature' with age, or do they slow down because of pain? That's the question to keep in mind. Recently, in the dog park, I have seen a 13 years old collie who could outrun and out-jump any of the young pups there. I would have sworn he couldn't have been more that three years old. He certainly didn't know the rules of aging. So I believe that as a rule of thumb, if you're dog is slowing down look for pain.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
When you suspect arthritis, have your vet examine your dog. A combination of a physical exam and x-rays will provide the best diagnosis.
My dog has arthritis, what do I do?
When deciding what steps to take, I always consider severity of the situation. There isn't not much point to try shooting a fly with a cannon. On the other hand going after a bear with a slinghot will only get you in more trouble than you were already in.
If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis, there are number of treatment options. As always, I encourage you to learn about all of them before making a decision. Here are some of the options, many of them can be used in combination.
Most commonly, your vet might recommend NSAIDs to treat your dog's arthritis. The good thing about NSAIDs is that they deal with the inflammation and resulting pain reliably and fast. However, I believe that the most obvious solution doesn't always have to be the best one. NSAIDs are effective in controlling the symptoms, but don't address the underlying problem and can have severe side effects. I am listing them first because they are most common, but for me NSAIDs are the last resort.
- Stem cell regenerative therapy
In my books, the best currently available treatment for arthritis is the stem cell regenerative therapy. Regenerative therapy for degenerative disease. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Stem cell therapy is addressing the root of the problem. It is not the cheapest option, and it does involve a minor surgery, but it seems to bring wonderful results. I'd say that for many dogs it can be the most effective treatment out there. Our Jasmine is a proof of that.
Acupuncture is an affordable, minimally invasive treatment. Often people turn to acupuncture when they find out that their dog cannot tolerate NSAIDs. Why not consider it first? I know people who used it to treat their dog's arthritis with great results.
Note: those needles are very small and don't go deep. Many dogs actually seem to look forward to their acupuncture sessions, but if this is not the case acupressure may be the way to go.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are becoming more and more popular for treating arthritis in both people and dogs. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are natural substances normally found in joints. Glucosamine is believed to protect cartilage and stimulate cartilage renegeration. Chondroitin sulfate is believed to help maintain viscosity in joints, protect and stimulate cartilage repair. They seem to work well for some dogs, while to others they seem to be of little benefit. Like with most supplements, it may depend on product quality and ingredient combination. However, they are safe with minimal adverse effects.
- Adequan/Catrophene injections
Adequan (in the US) or catrophen (in Canada) is a product that works in much the same way as glucosamine but comes in the form of an injection. It can selectively target the affected joint(s) and for some dogs, these injections seem to be more effective than oral joint supplements.
MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is a natural source of sulfur. Sulfur is believed to be an anti-inflammatory agent, antioxidant and a building block for joint and connective tissue repair.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and are believed to aid in reducing the activity of enzymes that destroy cartilage.
Some studies have shown that antioxidants can be helpful in treatment of arthritis.
- Herbal formulas
You might want to find a holistic or Traditional Chinese Medicine vet to talk to them about herbal arthritis treatments.
- Weight management
Keep the weight down and reduce the stress on the joints. This helps when dealing with arthritis and can help to prevent it or at least slow its progression.
You might think that the best thing a dog with arthritis can do is rest. Well, not exactly. Regular low impact exercise, like leash walks or swimming, will help to keep the weight down, muscles strong, and joints lubricated.
- Laser therapy
In my mind, cold laser is acupuncture without the needles. Both acupuncture and cold laser work best when combined with chiropractic and physical therapy.
Physiotherapy helps to maintain mobility, strength and flexibility.
- Massage therapy
Massage can help relieve pain and improve mobility.
A Good quality diet can help prevent health problems and promote healing.
A Word on Pain
Friends or Foes: NSAIDs
Stem Cells for Dogs? Oh Yeah, Baby
A Word on Diet
Acupuncture Is Not Voodoo