Arthritis: How to Recognize and Manage the Condition


Alleviating the Discomfort of Arthritis


It is important to first note that as with any medication, and especially with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as many pain relieving "arthritis medications", there can be occasional adverse reactions for individual patients. 


There are many anti-inflammatory medications that are prescribed for dogs. You and your veterinarian need to discuss the pros and cons of any medication your dog (or cat) is taking, especially those being taken on a continuing basis. 


Immediately discontinue use of any medication, and contact your veterinarian, as soon as a suspected adverse reaction occurs. Reactions can be variable, subtle, severe, or unusual; individual attention to each medication's potential adverse effects should be discussed with your veterinarian.


Fortunately there are safe and effective medications available for dogs that are suffering from the debilitating effects of arthritis. One of the most prescribed medications is a product called Carprofen. As with any medication, however, safety is an issue.


I asked J. Michael McFarland, DVM, DABVP, Director of the Sedation and Pain Management Team at Pfizer Animal Health's Companion Animal Division, about the safety of Carprofen, especially since many of the dogs needing arthritis discomfort relief are older animals. McFarlane makes a good point when he says, " Whenever any medication is used for long term therapy for ongoing conditions, such as diabetes, epilepsy, thyroid dysfunction or kidney disease, the veterinarian will need to do some ongoing testing. Deramaxx is one comonly used anti inflammatory medication used in dogstesting. That’s why blood chemistry parameters are routinely checked whenever long-term drug therapy is administered in the treatment of diseases. Periodic blood tests should be evaluated when any NSAIDS are used in the treatment of osteoarthritic pain.” NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) is a class of anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin, that do not contain cortisone-like chemicals.


Meloxicam is a liquid NSAID that has been well accepted for arthritis management in dogs and is now available in the U.S. by prescription only from your veterinarian.  Other anti-arthritis medications are being studied and released for use in animals, much to the joy of dogs and their owners!


How to Manage a Dog with Arthritis


Keeping excess body weight to a minimum is a very important aspect of managing arthritis in dogs. Often, simply reducing the dog’s weight to a reasonable level will effect noticeable changes in the dog’s activity and mobility. Exercise is important to entice the dog to maintain and improve joint movement and flexibility. Soft, cushioned sleeping surfaces that keep the dog comfortable and warm may aid in lessening arthritic discomfort. A hardwood floor of a living room or doghouse will not serve the dog well in alleviating joint stiffness. Massage therapy should be considered, too.


In the past few years a number of products called nutraceuticals have also had remarkable success in assisting dogs with various disorders, including arthritis. Defined as a food or naturally occurring food supplement thought to have a beneficial effect on health, nutraceuticals are not considered medications and can be obtained without a prescription. Among the most popular are chondroprotectives … substances that when eaten provide nutrients that are required for repair and maintenance of joint tissue.


According to veterinarian Stacy Martin of Fort Dodge Animal Health, "Nutraceuticals with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been proven to aid dogs with osteoarthritis. With so many choices of these products available it is very important to purchase a product that has been made by a manufacturer who maintains high manufacturing standards. All over-the-counter products may not have the same quantity or have the same quality of products listed on their ingredients."


Martin added, "Oral nutraceuticals such as chondroprotectives repair and reduce cartilage breakdown in a joint."


One of the most effective treatment approaches can be to use NSAIDs and chondroprotectives together. There are many ways to help battle the pain and progression of osteoarthritis. Based on the type of osteoarthritis and the individual dog, management may  require only one or possibly many approaches. Some approaches include exercise programs, weight control, nutraceuticals and NSAID use.


Often, the nutraceutical is not enough to ease your pet's pain. An NSAID is often used in conjunction or alone in the management of pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. As well, there is evidence that omega fatty acids in the diet can help alleviate the inflammation and discomfort of arthritis.


One last word of caution. Some medications that humans commonly take to subdue arthritic discomfort are totally inappropriate for use in dogs. Acetaminophen, for example, has been associated with liver damage in dogs. And Ibuprophen has been reported to cause gastro-intestinal bleeding.


Martin provides good advice when she says, "Your veterinarian will help you decide which course of action is best for your pet. It is very important not to try treating your pet with any type of product, nutraceutical or NSAID, without consulting your veterinarian. It is also important to use FDA approved products for animals rather than a product made for humans. Together with your veterinarian, you can devise a program for your dog to let him have a happier, more active life."


Image: Francis Mariani / via Flickr