Treatment Options for Arthritis in Dogs

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Most of the symptoms seen in dogs with arthritis result from pain. As a result, treatment for arthritis in dogs is geared toward reducing pain as well as maintaining muscle mass and joint mobility. This is best accomplished by using a combination of treatments rather than relying on only one medication or treatment option.

Exercise and Weight Management

Exercise is important for arthritic dogs but should be low impact to avoid further stress on damaged joints. There are several forms of exercise that are appropriate for dogs with arthritis.

  • Leash walking and mild controlled jogging are acceptable forms of exercise for many dogs with arthritis.
  • Swimming is another excellent exercise for dogs with arthritis and is a commonly used form of physical rehabilitation.
  • Underwater treadmills can also be an effective form of physical therapy and can help meet the exercise requirements of an arthritic dog.
  • Professional veterinary rehabilitation is a great option for moderate to severe cases of arthritis.

Weight management is critical for managing canine arthritis. Excess fat tissue secretes hormones that promote inflammation and pain. If appropriate, a weight reduction program should be implemented and closely monitored for all pets with arthritis. A typical goal is for the dog to be just a little bit on the thin side of normal.

Hydrotherapy for Dog
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Prescription Medications

Various forms of medication can be used to reduce pain for arthritic dogs.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) are one of the most commonly used classes of drugs for arthritis pain. NSAIDs include medications such as Rimadyl®, Etogesic®, Deramaxx® and Metacam®, to name a few.

Other non-NSAID pain medications include tramadol, buprenorphine, fentanyl, amantadine, and gabapentin. These medications can be combined with NSAIDs to provide more comprehensive pain relief for dogs with arthritis. Doing so often allows us to use lower doses of both drugs since the drugs work together to reduce pain. This significantly reduces the risk of adverse effects from either drug.

All arthritis medications carry some risk of side effects, and normally it is recommended to minimize their use by employing other types of treatment simultaneously.

Senior dog taking arthritis medication
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Nutraceutical supplements are naturally occurring compounds or foods that have the ability to affect the health of an individual.

Nutraceuticals that improve joint health include:

  • Glucosamine
  • Chondroitin
  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)

These supplements can be quite helpful in reducing pain and other symptoms like stiffness for arthritic dogs, particularly when used in conjunction with any of the pharmaceutical medications that control arthritis pain.

There are also injectable chondroprotective agents (substances which help protect the cartilage within the arthritic joint) that can be used to control the joint changes and pain associated with arthritis. Adequan® is an example.

Using Complimentary Alternative Therapies

Acupuncture and massage are alternative therapies that are often effective in improving the pain associated with arthritis. Both can be performed in conjunction with conventional methods.

Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy is a promising new treatment option for canine joint problems. While it is still in its experimental phase, this therapy may be a treatment option for your arthritic dog. Speak with your veterinarian to see stem cell therapy is available in your area.

Surgical Alternatives

In cases where conventional and alternative methods of medical management are not effective, surgical intervention may be considered. The type of surgery needed will depend on the joint involved, the dog's size and activity level, and more. Potential surgical options include:

  • Total joint replacement
  • Removal of the femoral head (the part of the thigh bone that fits into the hip socket)
  • Arthrodesis (fusing damaged joints)

In some cases, reconstructive surgeries that correct congenital abnormalities and stabilize the joint may be recommended, but these are most effective in younger dogs before too much arthritis has set in.

Arthritis is a painful condition for all affected dogs. Treatment options concentrate on relieving the pain and promoting increased mobility and strength. In most cases, using two or more of the treatment options simultaneously results in more pain control with less risk of side effects.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
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  1. Degenerative Arthritis in Dogs and Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.

  2. Arthritis in Dogs. VCA Hospitals.