Thursday, January 21, 2010

Talk to Me About Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in dogs. One in five dogs will develop arthritis at some point in their lives.

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.
  • NSAIDs
    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
    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
      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.
    • Antioxidants
      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.
    • Exercise
      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.
    • Physiotherapy
      Physiotherapy helps to maintain mobility, strength and flexibility. 
    • Massage therapy
      Massage can help relieve pain and improve mobility.

    • Diet
      A Good quality diet can help prevent health problems and promote healing.
    As you can see, treatment options for degenerative joint disease are plentiful. Learn about your choices and discuss them with your regular, homeopathic or TCVM vet. Know all your options before you make a decision.


    A Word on Pain
    Friends or Foes: NSAIDs
    Stem Cells for Dogs? Oh Yeah, Baby
    A Word on Diet 
    Acupuncture Is Not Voodoo

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    1. Hi there,
      Thought I'd kick off some interaction here.
      OK- first off, pretty good rounded article except the ONE glaring admission that kicks all the rest into touch, the easiest to implement, the cheapest and with the best recovery/prevention of all of them. Get ready here it is -->DIET<-- a natural diet derived of those foods naturally available to the canine carnivore, the right food that harminises physiologically, biologically and mentally with dogs, our dogs, as precribed by doctor nature over millions of years. 60 years of profit led care less junk food has crippled our dogs and made us ignorant!
      Sometimes I feel like the one eyed man in the land of the blind but seriously get in touch and get on track, Jasmine will find a new lease of life-quranteed.
      All the best, Dan Scott

    2. Dear Dan.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. And you are right, quality diet is extremely important for many things. I got so tangled up with listing all the remedies, that I completely forgot about that. Good diet can prevent and improve many conditions. Jasmine is actually on home-made diet, based on Hilary's Blend. I will think of a good way to include the diet info.

    3. Dear Dan.
      I did some research, but I cannot really find any evidence that raw diet alone would treat arthritis. Maybe you can point me to some resources?

    4. Hi Jana,
      Great information on this terrible condition. My dog Maggie has a arthritic spine slowly getting worse. She can not take an NASIDs vomits violently shortly after ingesting any type. She does take Glucosamine and Chondroitin with MSM. After 4 acupuncture treatments we couldn't see marked change or improvement so the vet stopped the treatment. Maggie is now on Gabapentin 100mg daily.

      Are you familiar with this protocol, and if so what are your thoughts


    5. Dear George

      The supplements are helpful but usually not enough for really tough case.

      Gabapentin is a pain drug, helping her to feel better. It might help to maintain muscle mass by controlling pain but it isn't a cure for arthritis itself.

      Does she has spondylosis then? I have a case study of a dog who's spondylosis responded to acupuncture and physical therapy beautifully.

      The thing is that one one treatment work for all dogs.

      A good number of dogs respond the laser therapy also.

      I think physical therapy and hydrotherapy are helpful in any case.

      Big guns for treating arthritis is stem cell regenerative therapy. You could research that and discuss with your vet whether that would be a good option.

    6. Thanks for the info on the cold laser therapy. I had never heard of it but it's something I'm going to be checking into now.

    7. Dear Greg. It is certainly a good safe option and many dogs respond well to that.

    8. Thank you for this comprehensive list. I note that we also see good results with Reiki and I cannot emphasize enough how much of a difference it makes if your animal is fit, strong and the correct weight.

      - Heather
      Founder and Team Leader
      New England Pet Hospice

    9. Good to hear about the Reiki, just in a process of looking into that.

    10. Great Article!
      My Cubbie has the beginning of some arthritis. He only limps when he jumps off of our back porch like he's diving into a pool. I would like to know what kind of dry dog food to give him. Core is what I give him now, but he will be 7yrs this year and that has too much protein as per my vet. He has a sensitive stomach and does better with small kibble and wheat free kibble. Many thanks, love your page :)

    11. Hi Beverly.

      There are almost as many dog food brands as there are dogs out there :-) Many of the good brands include formula specific for senior dogs. Visit your pet health food store or look online and research some of the products. Orijen is one of the good ones and they have a senior food. Honest Kitchen has a number of great products.

      To manage arthritis you're looking for food low in read meat/beef, because that one is more pro-inflammatory.

      Many of the senior dog formulas already include arthritis supplements such as Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM and omega-3. There are also many good supplements out there that could be add to a 'regular' food. Some of the popular ones are Sasha's Blend, Dasuqin for example.

    12. PS: I would do what it takes to avoid such high impact actions on his part, such as diving off the back porch. I think installing a bit of a railing would be the easiest way to avoid that.

    13. Hey Jana,

      Thanks so much! I love your site, I do not give cubbie any beef @ all. I will look into the products that you have suggested. GREAT BLOG!! Thanks again :))

    14. Thank you, Beverly, I'm glad you find it useful!

    15. About the dive :)
      I'm trying, we have a small wooden gate that I put near the edge on the right and he thinks before leaping. thanks again :)

    16. dive update, lol.. propped up a small wooden gate on the top step so that he only has just enough room to go up and down. it is working so far!

    17. Awesome! Controlling the environment is usually the easiest.

    18. As I work more and more with age in myself as well as the dogs I train, I'm finding things like acupuncture to be incredibly beneficial.

      I've always been a proponent of exercise and weight management, but there are other things as the aging process happens that can keep those things feeling good too. Thanks for a most informative article.

    19. Great post Jana!
      We currently feed a high quality diet high in Omega's, offer joint supplements, exercise, and keep their weight under control which is so important! I do get concerned about the boys going up and down stairs a lot, the only access we have to go outside to the backyard is through the basement so it worries me how this impact will affect them over the years. (I already have a plan for when they are seniors-buy a new house:)

    20. Hi Jen. Sounds like you have it all covered! :-) The stairs are unfortunate, great to see you dedication - getting a new house when the stairs become too much for them! :-)

      On the upside, not all dogs develop arthritis, considering the care you take of your dogs, with a bit of luck maybe they won't.

    21. Two questions.
      1. I have one dog on gabepentin, prescribed by a Neurologist to block nerve pain. It works very well. I am confused, how would this drug help arthritis pain which is inflammatory? I think I am confused.

      2. I do use Dr Maggies glucosimine/chondriton with Vit C as a preventative. It is much more affordable compared to the vet presribed Cosequin. I really cant find/dont know though if its as effective. I was happy with the added Vit C it had - any feed back you know of on that as a comparable product. (if I shouldnt be asking that online, I'd love a private message!)I shy from human products as most have MSM which should be avoided if on gabepentin I was told.

    22. Miss Kodee, where did you find the product? Does Dr. Maggie have a site? i would rather use something natural on Cubbie myself. Although he is not suffering @ all.. He will be 8 yrs next month. The food he eats, Blue for seniors does have some glucosimine/chondriton in it but would like to add more....

    23. Hi.

      1) Yes Gabapentin is now also used to manage chronic pain. It doesn't 'treat' the source of pain, but controls the perception of it. After all, regardless of the cause of the pain, the perception of it is a neurological process.

      This in turn allows more proper usage of the limb, better motion and stronger muscles, which can help out with the arthritis itself.

      2)I am not familiar with this product. Some believe that any glucosamine/chondroitin product will do the job. Some believe that the type of product matters. I know that there was only one specific product that worked for hubby. Few believe that none of them really does anything. So you will find many different opinions.

      I think the main measure is how your dog responds to it. If after about a month of use you see improvement, then it's working. If not, might wanna try a different product.

      Our late rescue did great in bioJoint. Jasmine cannot have most of them because of her allergies and it is getting just pure liquid form.

      The most popular products up here are Sasha's blend and Cosequin or newer Dasuqin.

      The vitamin C won't hurt anything and it is often used for arthritis even on its own.

      You might want to bring this question up at!/dogarthritisblog

      Or try some forum to see what other people who tried it think.

      But again, I believe that the most important measure is whether or not you can see some results (it does take a while so you need to give it at least about a month)

      Personally, I think that these are simple enough compounds that the different products should be quite comparable. But as with my hubby I saw that the type of product might make a difference.

      Sorry I don't have more conclusive answer for this one.

    24. Thanks that was very informative. I did see an improvement pretty immediately within a few wks. Dr Maggie's is a Canadian made product but is sold in the U.S. Kodee does not have arthritis but I use these products as a preventative as she is on another medication that can have bad side affects down the road. Great idea to post to the arthritis group.

    25. Beverley: here is the website. Love to know what anyone thinks

    26. Great article! I agree that a good nutritional food is one of the most important things you can give your pet. I'm lucky enough to never have had a pet with arthritis, but have heard MANY stories of how Glucosamine/Chondroitin has really helped pets get a better quality of life.

    27. Hi Ellen. I'm very happy that you didn't have a pet with arthritis yourself, it is very sad.

      Glucosamine/Chondroitin are very popular, so much so that some brands add it to their formulas.

      There are other nutrients that are involved in prevention/treatment also. For most part the rule seems to apply - garbage in ...

    28. Lots of options indeed Jana. I think the trick is to combine the ones that seem to offer the most promise, mixing established medicine with some of the newer therapies. As you mentioned yourself, a lot of the newer therapies work well for some dogs and not for others. This is usually a sign that they might be good for certain types of arthritis (there are plenty) and so will work well for these types, not so well for others.

      Always remember that weight control is the most important treatment. As a veterinarian, it can be one of the more frustrating to deal with though.

      By the way, thank you for recommending my facebook page on Dog arthritis :)

    29. Hi Chris. Yes, we combined new and old. When we tried NSAIDs (Previcox), however, it ended up in a big disaster; Jasmine got very sick.

      Something like that opens one's eyes. From that one I always consider/try safe treatments, and drugs are only last resort for us.

      You're right about the weight. So simple, so effective, and yet so hard to get people to do...

    30. Hi Just found your blog and this great article. I personally found it of great interest
      Having had two German Shepherd Dog sisters who have had arthritis since 11 months old in both their hips, one in her elbow ED(operated on when 2 years old but returned subsequently) too and the other in her toes in both feet (sesamoid disease) it is something I have some knowledge of myself. They are almost 9 now and personally I have managed their arthritis through weight,control, diet, exercise and supplements. However, I have found that at various points the limping or pain have started to reappear and i have so far managed to change diet or supplement products or combinations and/ or natural pain killers that has worked for them. It maybe that one day I run out of options to naturally manage their condition and this article discusses many of the options available. Great article that discusses many of the available options. Thank you

      1. Hi Jan, wow, those girls were certainly dealt an unfortunate hand in that department. Lucky to have you.

        Cold laser therapy, acupuncture, adequan injections as still quite natural ways of managing arthritis. Stem cells and platelet rich plasma are also quite natural and work great.