Managing Arthritis Blog Post July 2014
By Dr. Adam McGarity
It can be difficult to watch our dogs grow old, but it is especially difficult to see them in
pain. Don’t let your dog’s arthritis pain go unattended. In many cases their osteoarthritis
can be adequately controlled and their quality of life restored. Below I have outlined several
tactics that will allow your dog to enjoy their golden years.
It is imperative that we not let ourselves give into our desire to spare them the pain
entirely, we must keep walking our dogs. Just like when we have sore joints, the more a dog’s
sore joints are exercised, the better they stay lubricated, and the surrounding muscles stay
toned. If we allow our stiff, uncomfortable dogs to lie around all day they will only get
worse. Exercise should be very low impact, consisting of mainly slow leash walks, or
swimming. It is important, particularly in the later stages, that we limit high impact
activities. Some dogs are so ball driven, or eager to go that they can really hurt themselves
doing the activities they once loved, “tough-love” will be a recurring theme throughout this
blog post. Walk your dog only long enough for them to begin to tire, don’t over do it,
especially at first. It won't take long to notice that they are wanting to go, and go for longer.
A dog’s weight is intimately tied to how debilitated they are by their arthritis. From
personal experience with my own dog, the minute she gains a few pounds the more sore and
difficult time she has moving around. Once I begin controlling her portions more tightly,
"tough love", she sheds the extra pounds, and seems to immediately feel better. Begin by
determining whether or not your dog is overweight. Some things to look for are whether or
not they have a waist when viewed from above, does their abdomen tuck up just before their
rear legs, and are their ribs easily felt. If they are missing any of these characteristics, it is
time to shed a few pounds. Exercise will of course help, but switching diets may really
increase success rates. Choose a low calorie, “light”, dog food, maybe even mixing it with a
bag of food labeled as “joint health.” Also, don’t forget portion control, and limit treats or
substitute the biscuit with carrot sticks or a few small pieces of kibble.
There are also joint health diets from several of the big pet food manufacturers. These
diets are sold by prescription only and typically contain high levels of glucosamine,
chondroitin, and essential fatty acids, so you won't have to provide any of these in the way
of supplements. When that is taken into consideration these normally pretty expensive diets
become more affordable. I highly recommend Science Diet J/D and encourage you to either
have us order some for you or request a prescription.
Medication to control pain is very important when managing arthritis; and the main reason
we give them is so the dog will feel well enough to MOVE, to maintain maximum range of
motion, and muscle tone. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) are not
without risks and should be used as infrequent as is possible to maintain the dog’s mobility.
Over the counter medication for dog’s should be limited to Aspirin, and then, only at a dose
suggested by your vet. With that said, Aspirin is a nice, cost-effective NSAID to use daily,
or preferably every other day. There are other complimentary medications out there that
you should discuss with your veterinarian. These meds may make it possible to lower
NSAID dosages, or decrease the frequency with which they are given. But again, pain
medications are important, and dogs do much better long term with them.
Providing the precursors and the nutritional elements that support joint health is another
important component of treating arthritis. Oral products including glucosamine,
chondroitin sulfate, MSM, and essential fatty acids should be supplemented on a daily basis.
Not all products however, are created equal so do a little homework. Choose products made
specifically for pets as absorption of these components differs by species. A quick search on
the internet brings up hundreds of joint supplements so try to stick with some reputable
brands and be sure to get your veterinarian's opinion as it relates to specific brands and
ingredients. If after an acceptable period of time the product hasn't seemed to make a
difference, don't quit supplements all together, try a different one. Just like with pain meds,
different supplements work better for certain individuals.
An injectable supplement has also had a great deal of success when it comes to managing,
and even repairing damaged joint surfaces. Adequan, made by Novartis animal health, is an
intramuscular injection that is given on a monthly basis. With a quick lesson your vet can
even teach you to give these injections at home, which should bring down the cost.
Homeopathic and Eastern Medicine
Finally, we live in the age of "natural" , where there is much skepticism when it comes to
the pharmaceutical, and food industries. The same is true for how owners are managing
their pet's health. I for one, think this is great. Why should we resort entirely to
medications to control chronic pain when there is plenty of proof that chiropractic
adjustment, acupuncture, massage therapy, and now therapeutic laser treatments are
beneficial. Notice, however, I said "resort entirely to medications." After all, there is a
reason western medicine developed after eastern medicine. But we in the veterinary
community have come to see how these many forms of both western and eastern medicine
compliment one another. At Palmetto Vet we offer both acupuncture and therapeutic laser
treatments, and I can personally attest to the benefits of both. The laser treatments take
only about 5 minutes to perform and clients are encouraged to bring their pets in as often as
possible for a quick treatment.
My purpose in writing this was to outline a multi-faceted approach for dealing with your
dog’s chronic osteoarthritis pain. Please understand that in order for you to be successful,
several, if not all, of these tactics will need to be employed simultaneously. Please schedule a
consult with our office so that we can discuss any questions you may have about the
preceding information, or just to confirm that your dog is indeed suffering with arthritis
pain and not something more sinister. We will be happy to work up an estimate for any of
the aforementioned products, foods, or medications or to script them out. Together we can
insure that your dog maintains an excellent quality of life, and that you get to maximize the
precious time you have left with them.