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Arthritis in Dogs
Dogs are now living longer than ever. Many conditions, such as osteoarthritis, occur with aging and can be difficult to manage. With recent advances in veterinary medicine and surgery, there are now many things that can be done to help your pet with osteoarthritis.
Weight management in older arthritic dogs is very important. Joints that are already sore and stressed are made worse when they have to support extra weight. And let's face it- our pet population is battling obesity just like the human population. The difference is, it is the humans who are making the dogs obese. Numerous studies have been done that show reducing weight leads to significant improvement in quality of life. Ease of activities such as climbing stairs, jumping into a car or truck, and even getting up from a sitting position can improve dramatically with weight loss.
Just like in people, exercise is vital for weight loss. Feeding less food alone simply decreases the resting metabolic rate. Exercise increases the rate and thus burns more calories. One of our goals is also to increase muscle mass. Providing 20-60 minutes a day of activity along with reduced calorie intake will help patients with osteoarthritis.
Several veterinary diets have been introduced to the market specifically for dogs with osteoarthritis. These diets contain EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and/or DHA (dicisagexaebiuc acid) which result in less inflammation in the joints. They also include glucosamine and chondroitin. Some dogs show improvement being these diets in as little as three weeks!
Controlled exercise is invaluable in treatment for patients with osteoarthritis. This helps improved function, reduced pain, and the need for medication.
Initially, an exercise program should avoid overloading the joints. Walking and swimming are excellent for starters. Exercise programs must be tailored for each dog and your dog should not be forced to exercise during times of pain, as this will increase inflammation.
Controlled leash walking, walking in water, jogging, swimming, and going up and down ramp inclines are excellent low impact exercises. Exercise should be monitored so there is no increased pain after the activity. In the early phases, it is better to do three 10 minutes sessions rather than one 30-minute session. The exercise can be daily or every other day. Walks should be brisk and purposeful, with minimal stopping. Swimming and walking in water are some of the best activities for dogs. The buoyancy of the water is significant and limits the impact on joints while promoting muscle strength, tone, and joint motion. Controlled exercise should not increase pain after an activity. If there is pain after an activity, the length of activity should be decreased by half. A 10-minute warm down period allows muscles to cool down. A slower paced walk for 5 minutes will do. Cold packs can be applied to painful joints for 15 minutes to control post-exercise inflammation.
Many inflammatory mediators and degradive enzymes are present in osteoarthritis and lead to the deterioration of articular cartilage.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are important in the treatment of osteoarthritis. They decrease inflammation and pain. NSAIDS used in veterinary medicine include aspirin, carprofen (Rimadyl), deracoxib (Deramaxx), etodolac (Etogesic), Meloxicam, and firocoxib. Your veterinarian will discuss the NSAID options with you and decide which is best for your dog.
Aging dogs often have medical conditions that affect the management of osteoarthritis and the use of these drugs. Kidney, gastrointestinal, or liver conditions must be assessed to make sure your dog is able to metabolize and excrete the medications. A complete history, physical exam, and blood work are thus necessary prior to initiating NSAIDS along with periodic follow-up blood work as determined by your veterinarian.
Slow-acting Disease Modifying Osteoarthritis agents
Neutraceuticals are nutritional supplements believed to have a positive influence on cartilage health by alternating cartilage repair and maintenance.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are often used (Glycoflex, Cosequin, Dasequin and Adequan are a few of these). They are purported to help improve cartilage metabolism. They may be more helpful in early osteoarthritis than in chronic, long-term osteoarthritis. Some people report great success by using them, others do not.
Essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA), the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, have been shown to have marked anti-inflammatory effect when added to the diet at proper levels. As mentioned above, veterinary joint aid diets contain both of these supplements or they can be added to your pet’s current diet separately.Laser therapy is the use of specific wavelengths of light (red and near-infrared) to create therapeutic effects. These effects include improved healing time, pain reduction, increased circulation and decreased swelling. Laser Therapy has been widely utilized in Europe by physical therapists, nurses and doctors as far back as the 1970's. Now, after FDA clearance in 2002, Laser Therapy is being used extensively in the United States.
Many animals benefit from the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture. Acupuncture points (acupoints) are specific spots on the body surface where a practitioner applies stimulation for the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Thousands of years of clinical practice along with modern research have shown that each acupoint possesses special therapeutic effects. Each acupoint has a unique location and physiological effect. Some dogs experience less pain following treatment, allowing a decrease in the use of NSAIDS. This is particularly helpful in dogs with decreased kidney or liver function.
There are many things you can do at home to help your dog with osteoarthritis. Keep your dog in a warm dry environment, away from cold and dampness. Use a soft, well-padded bed. Provide good footing to avoid slipping and falling. Carpet runners work well on hardwood floors. Minimize stair climbing by using ramps. You can purchase these from pet stores or make them yourself. Portable ramps are available to assist dogs getting in and out of cars. Avoid overdoing activities on weekends and excessive play with other pets.
Together with you, Lawrence Veterinary Hospital can come up with a plan involving some or all of the above treatments to help with your pet’s osteoarthritis.