Canine Arthritis: Symptoms and Treatment

Canine arthritis: Symptoms and treatment of arthritis in dogs
Canine arthritis is a common and painful disease for affected dogs.

Canine arthritis is also commonly referred to as degenerative joint disease. Arthritis in dogs can have many causes. It may be:

  • caused by a congenital deformity in the affected joint, as in hip dysplasia or elbow dysplasia
  • caused by a previous injury
  • caused by aging and the resultant “wear and tear” on the affected joint
  • caused by infectious agents, such as Lyme disease
  • caused by autoimmune disorders

Symptoms of canine arthritis

Whatever the cause of arthritis, degenerative joint disease in dogs causes pain in the affected joint. Arthritis may affect any joint in the body, including hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, and spines. Arthritis may involve many joints or may affect only one joint.

Symptoms commonly seen with arthritis are related to pain in the affected joint and may include:

  • an abnormal gait (i.e. limping or carrying the painful leg)
  • stiffness
  • difficulty going up and down stairs or climbing into cars, onto furniture, etc.
  • difficulty finding a comfortable way to rest or lie
  • difficulty rising from a sleeping or seated position
  • lack of appetite
  • irritability

Treatment of arthritis in dogs

Treatment of arthritis in dogs may involve many different tactics. The immediate objective in treating arthritis is to decrease the pain associated with arthritis, which is often done through the use of pain relief medications. However, there are many other things which may also be recommended to improve the joint health of dogs suffering from arthritis.

Weight control is important for arthritic dogs

For those arthritic dogs which are overweight or obese, weight control should be a top priority. Besides adding additional weight to diseased joints leading to increased pain, fat as a tissue is increasingly being recognized as a secretory organ which produces substances which may in themselves contribute to causing pain. By reducing the weight of an arthritic dog, if appropriate, joint-related pain may become easier to manage.

Pain control for arthritic dogs

There are numerous pain control medications available for dogs with arthritis, including numerous NSAIDS (such as Rimadyl, Etogesic, Deramaxx, Metacam, Previcox and others) as well as medications such as tramadol, gabapentin and amantadine.

Cortisone or steroid products, such as prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone, are sometimes used to control the pain associated with arthritis under certain circumstances as well. These medications do have side effects and should be used as directed by the veterinarian. NSAIDs are contra-indicated when these products are being administered.

Nutraceuticals and other medications which may improve joint health

Various dietary supplements have been identified which may help to improve the health of affected joints, thereby easing the symptoms of arthritis. These supplements, also known as nutriceuticals, include:

  • glucosamine
  • chondroitin
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM)

Pet owners should use caution in choosing nutriceuticals for their pets, however and should deal only with reputable drug manufacturers. Nutriceuticals are not regulated as most other pharmaceutical medications are in the United States and there have been many instances of labelling discrepancies with some of these medications.

Adequan is another medication which is often used to help improve the health of an arthritic joint. Adequan is an injectable medication which contains a protective cartilage component known as polysulfated glycosaminoglycan. Adequan has been used with success in relieving pain for some dogs with arthritis and other forms of degenerative joint disease.

Alternative medicine options for relief of arthritis pain in dogs

Acupuncture is being used more commonly to relieve the pain associated with arthritis in dogs and may an alternative in some communities where the services are readily available.

Physical rehabilitation is also becoming more widely used to control chronic pain such as that seen with arthritis as well. Physical therapy may range from modalities such as laser therapy or hydrotherapy to range-of-motion exercises which loosen and strengthen injured muscles, tendons and joints.

Adult stem cell therapy in treating canine arthritis

Stem cell therapy is another treatment option which is showing promise in the treatment of canine arthritis. Adult stem cell therapy has been used for several years as a treatment for muscle, joint and tendon injuries in horses and has more recently become available as a treatment option for dogs with similar injuries or diseases.

Multi-modal treatment approach to treating canine arthritis

In most cases of joint pain and arthritis in dogs, a multi-modal approach which incorporates one or more of the available treatment modalities is advisable. Weight loss for those dogs which are overweight is essential and may in itself provide some pain relief. Nutriceuticals may be used to help improve joint health and provide long-term pain relief. In the shorter term, pain medications or other options, such as acupuncture, may provide more immediate relief from pain. Physical therapy may also be indicated to help keep otherwise unsued muscles strong and healthy.


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