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How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs: Glucosamine, Chondroitin Sulfate, NSAIDs, and More

 

By T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM

 

Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and other nutritional supplements are widely used to treat dogs with arthritis. The reason is simple: Arthritis will afflict most dogs as they age. Unfortunately, dog owners and veterinarians rarely notice the early warning signs of arthritis because dogs tend to hide soreness and discomfort until the arthritic changes in joints have become severe.

 

But before we discuss glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate and their effect on arthritis, it is important to note that no nutritional supplement will correct structural damage to a dog's joints (this is true in humans as well). If there are calcium deposits, scar tissue, missing or torn cartilage, or changes to the bones at the joint surface, these abnormalities will remain present and will continue to affect the animal regardless of nutritional intake.

 

Supplements to the dog's diet – such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, selenium, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) – can assist in decreasing inflammation and improving the body's ability to repair and strengthen joint tissues. And while high-quality supplements are very safe, they tend to work best in combination with other forms of arthritis treatment.

 

Let’s look at several ways you can make life a little easier for your arthritic dog.

 

How to Treat Arthritis in Dogs

 

Since it is difficult to remodel an arthritic joint without surgical intervention, attempts are usually made to reduce joint inflammation and pain, which will make the dog more comfortable even if the underlying arthritic changes still remain. It is important to remember that many of the medications discussed below can have significant side effects when used improperly or in especially sensitive individuals. Never give your pet any prescription or over-the-counter medication without first consulting a veterinarian. 

 

Steroids

 

Prednisone, dexamethasone, and other corticosteroids will markedly reduce swelling and inflammation in arthritic joints. But there is a downside to the use of steroids for long-term palliation of arthritis: they can actually contribute to additional joint damage and breakdown and have other, unwanted side effects. Also, corticosteroids can interact badly with other medications commonly used in the treatment of arthritis. For these reasons, and due to the fact that newer, safer options now exist, veterinarians do not prescribe corticosteroids for arthritis in dogs as often as they used to in the past.

 

NSAIDs

 

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can have noticeable, beneficial effects for the arthritis patient. However, NSAIDs that are intended for human use have a high incidence of potentially serious side effects in dogs. NSAIDs like Etogesic, Rimadyl, Metacam, and Deramaxx have been designed specifically for dogs and are much safer than drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin. However, these “doggy” NSAIDs can still cause gastrointestinal upset and in rare cases liver or kidney dysfunction. NSAID use in dogs should always be supervised by a veterinarian.

 

Other Pain Relievers

 

Other pain-relieving medications like tramadol, Galliprant, Amantadine, and gabapentin may be prescribed by veterinarians, particularly if a dog’s arthritis is severe or does not respond to other forms of treatment.

 

 

 

Nutritional Supplements

 

By their nature, nutritional supplements (also called nutraceuticals) are substances that are consumed orally as an addition to a normal diet. These substances are much safer than traditional "drugs" in that they can be considered a form of food. Side effects are almost unheard of as long as they are used in reasonable amounts. Stomach upset is possible, particularly at higher doses, but generally resolves as a dog’s digestive system adjusts.

 

Today, the most commonly used nutraceuticals in pet health care are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. With traditional drugs, dogs typically demonstrate improved comfort almost immediately. Conversely, nutraceuticals may take several weeks to months of administration before noticeable improvement in mobility and attitude are apparent.

 

1. Glucosamine

 

Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound that may improve the body's production of joint lubricants and the health of shock-absorbing cartilage within joints.

 

Glucosamine sulfate is also beneficial to other body structures besides joints. It is involved in the formation of nails, tendons, skin, eyes, synovial fluid, bone, ligaments, heart valves, and in mucous secretions of the digestive, respiratory, and urinary tracts. It is created in the production of proteins associated with cellular growth and structure.

 

Glucosamine as a nutritional supplement is usually extracted from crab, lobster, or shrimp shells. There are three forms of glucosamine, so when purchasing it, look for glucosamine sulfate because it seems to be absorbed and utilized the best.

 

Because dietary supplements are unregulated, the quality and contents may vary widely. Be sure to choose a product sold by a well-established company and consult your veterinarian as to which would be best for your dog. The presence of a National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal on the label is a good indicator that the product you’re buying is of high-quality.

 

2. Chondroitin Sulfate

 

Research on chondroitin sulfate suggests it may be beneficial in preventing stress injuries to joints as well as aiding in the repair of damaged connective tissue and possibly the bone that underlies cartilage within joints. Chondroitin sulfate may inhibit destructive enzymes in joint fluid and cartilage and help the body repair damaged cartilage and restore joint integrity. It may also protect existing cartilage from premature breakdown as well as keep cartilage tissue hydrated and assist in cushioning impact stress.

 

Some studies suggest that supplementation with chondroitin sulfate can reduce joint pain significantly. Other studies have shown that combining chondroitin sulfate with glucosamine might improve each substance's beneficial effects, though this is not universally accepted.

 

Because chondroitin production by the body decreases with age, supplementation with this compound may be especially helpful for older dogs with arthritis. Chondroitin supplements are manufactured from the cartilage of animals such as pigs, cattle, and fish.

 

3. Other Joint Sparing Products

 

The green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) is a source of chondroitin and other beneficial nutrients, and the sea cucumber is believed to provide assistance in the elimination of pain. They provide essential nutrients required by cartilage. Another arthritis-fighting supplement is called methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). It provides sulfur compounds that may inhibit pain. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids can also help arthritic dogs.

 

Additional Arthritis Treatment Options for Dogs

 

Prescription medications and nutritional supplements aren’t the only forms of treatment available for arthritis in dogs. Physical therapy, weight loss, acupuncture, cold laser treatments, surgery, and other options can also improve a pet’s comfort and mobility. Talk to your veterinarian about how your dog might benefit from all the different options in arthritis treatment that are available today.

 

 

 

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