He just might if he has arthritis! Anyone that has arthritis can usually tell when rainy, cold weather is on its way. Their stiff, achy joints usually alert them even before they watch the six o’clock weather forecast. Having arthritis can be life changing when even rising up from your chair can be challenging. Our canine friends face the same hurdles that we do when dealing with their everyday normal life. You may find that your dog is now leading a more sedentary life than he did before.
Just what is arthritis? It is a degenerative condition that affects one or more joints. In dogs, most arthritic conditions are an inherited orthopedic disease such as osteochondrosis or hip dysplasia, or those with a joint injury. Then other cases of arthritis are related to an immune-mediated joint disease or a joint infection.
Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) is a common disease that affects one out of five dogs in their lifetime. You may think that this problem is confined just to the older dogs. It is not. You may see hip dysplasia, ruptured cruciate ligaments, patella luxation, joint trauma and other joint conditions that can cause degenerative arthritis even in the younger dogs. The larger dogs like the German Shepherd are affected more often that the smaller dogs. If the dog is carrying too much weight, he is more likely to experience symptoms because of the extra strain placed on his ligaments and joints.
When a dog that has degenerative arthritis gets up in the morning or after a nap, he may experience different degrees of lameness, stiffness, and joint pain. Just like people, they may become irritable and have behavioral changes due to his increasing disability and pain. When it is cold and damp, this will increase the animal’s pain and stiffness. Degenerative arthritis is progressive and in time makes the dog’s life miserable.
Your veterinarian will make a diagnosis based on an x-ray of your dog's joints. X-rays will show bone spurs at points where the ligaments and joint capsule attach to the bone. There can be different degrees of joint space narrowing and increased density of bone around the joint.
Unfortunately degenerative joint disease is incurable, but with the proper treatment can substantially improve your dog’s life. Treatment may involve physical therapy and putting your dog on a diet to maintain his proper weight. You may need to use analgesics and corticosteroids to help relieve pain and improve function and the use of chondroprotective agents to repair the joint cartilage to prevent further damage. Also acupuncture has shown good results with dogs that suffer from arthritis. It is recommended that all of these treatments be used at the same time. In some severe cases, surgical fusion of painful joints such as the hock or elbow relieves pain and restores limb movement in some dogs.
It is recommended that the arthritic dog have moderate exercise to help maintain muscle mass and preserve the joints flexibility. However, don’t over exercise the dog as it can be counterproductive. They should never be allowed to jump up and down and should be discouraged from standing on their hind legs. He should be exercised on a leash. Swimming is an excellent exercise that improves muscle mass without over stressing the joints. Exercise can be increased as the dog improves with the use of medications.
Immune-Mediated Arthritis - this is an unusual group of diseases in which antibodies are directed against the dog’s own connective tissue, resulting in either an erosive or non-erosive arthritis. In erosive arthritis, cartilage and joint surfaces are destroyed. In non-erosive arthritis, there is inflammation but no tissue destruction. It seems that non-erosive arthritis tends to occur in mid-size and large breed dogs that are usually 5 to 6 years of age. The cause is unknown. The signs that your dog may have this condition are intermittent fever, loss of appetite, joint swelling, and a lameness that often shifts from limb to limb. A form of non-erosive arthritis occurs with systemic lupus erythematosus.
Along with doing joint x-rays, your veterinarian will do a Synovial fluid analysis to help distinguish immune-mediated arthritis from arthritis from infectious arthritis and osteoarthritis.
The treatment for immune-mediated arthritis is usually an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drug which includes corticosteroids and chemotherapy agents. The treatment must be continued for at least eight weeks and sometimes even longer. Sometimes different drugs and drug combinations might be used before determining which protocol might work best for your dog. Rheumatoid arthritis is less responsive than non-erosive arthritis to drug therapy. Most of the time you will see the smaller breeds of dog affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
If your dog has an infectious disease this may produce arthritis. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is associated with Rickettsial arthritis. Canine ehrlichiosis and spirochetal arthritis is associated with Lyme disease. All of these are tick-borne diseases. Fungal arthritis is a rare complication of a systemic fungal infection. The tick borne diseases respond to doxycycline or tetracycline. Still some dogs may have permanent joint damage.
There are a number of medications and supplements you may use to treat your dog’s arthritis problems. There are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications but they do not repair or heal the cartilage. The best way to use these are with supplements and given with foods. These medications do provide rapid pain relief.
There are a few NSAID’s that have chondro-protective characteristics meaning they protect against the breakdown of cartilage. Then others like aspirin actually destroy the cartilage in the dosage required for the relief of pain. This is one reason why aspirin is used less frequently for treating osteoarthritis.
Rimadyl is an excellent drug with a low incidence of gastrointestinal side effects that has proven itself over time. In order for Rimadyl to work, it must be given daily. It provides good pain relief and seems to slow the arthritic process. There are no detrimental effects on the cartilage. However, some breeds of dogs have shown a higher predisposition for liver toxicity when using this medication.
Etogesic is a newer NSAID which only requires one dose daily. This drug may prove as effective as Rimadyl. These drugs are available by prescription from your veterinarian. It’s interesting to note that many over the counter NSAIDs that are used for pain control in people are dangerous if given to the dog. Check with your veterinary for approval when using any drugs on your dogs. Never use more than one NSAID at the same time.
Before starting your dog on any drug that may have potential serious side effects, they should have blood work first to assess the liver and kidneys. The drugs could prolong bleeding times and interfere with clotting, and the potential to cause life threatening liver and kidney problems as well as gastrointestinal ulcerations. The first signs of trouble that you may see is your dog having nausea and vomiting. The dog’s blood work should be rechecked every six months or sooner if you notice problems. These drugs should not be combined or given with steroids.
The most common side effect is GI bleeding. This can be difficult to diagnose and quite extensive before signs become apparent. Misoprostol is a drug that prevents ulceration and helps heal ulcers caused by NSAIDs. Sulcrafate is another drug that protects against mucosal damage. Your veterinarian may prescribe one of these stomach protectants if your dog is taking an NSAID for chronic arthritis.
Oral corticosteroids are used for their anti-inflammatory effects. Low dosages appear to protect cartilage, while high dosages may destroy cartilage.
Regard steroid use as a highly dangerous medication. The use of steroids can have many side effects. They may interfere with cartilage repair. They may cause your dog to consume more water and foods making him have to eliminate more. The long term use of this medicine can lead to liver and adrenal problems. That said, steroids can still provide quick relief for many conditions and for immune problems they may be the drug choice. Steroids should not be combined with any of the NSAIDs.
The chondroprotectants are compounds that appear to modify the progression of osteoarthritis by preventing further breakdown of cartilage. The breakdown of cartilage is the first step in the development of degenerative joint disease. When chondroprotectants are used early in the treatment of osteoarthritis this is when they are the most effective.
Adequan which is similar to glucosamine is given by intramuscular injection two times a week for at least four weeks or more. It can be used as a preventive in dogs that are a high risk for developing degenerative joints disease such as hip dysplasia. Most nutraceuticals that are used to treat osteoarthritis contain glucosamine, polysulfated glycosaminoglycans and chondroitin sulfate compounds known to be involved in the synthesis and repair of joint cartilage. Some high end dog foods now contain some of these components in their ingredients. There are also a number of dog supplements that you can add to his food that also contain these nutraceuticals. They are not used to replace traditional medications, but are used as a follow up therapy.
Chondroprotective may be given along with an NSAID. This combination reduces pain and helps alleviate the joints inflammation. The chondroprotectants can be used to help prevent the developments of osteoarthritis. Before adding any supplements to your dogs treatment, always check with your veterinarian to avoid adverse interactions with medications that your dog may be on.
From the book, The Arthritis Solution for Dogs: Natural and Conventional Therapies: "An excellent book for each of us concerned with keeping our dogs happy, healthy, and athletic for as many years as possible. I recommend that all animal lovers read Dr. Messonnier's book." —Dr. Christina Chambreau, founding member and past chair of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.
My rating: arthritis medications: (4), supplements: (3), The Arthritis Solution for Dogs: (4)