Arthritis is a complex condition involving inflammation of the joints. There are many causes and types of arthritis in pets although osteoarthritis (OA) or degenerative joint disease (DJD) are by far the most common. In many cases, the degree of arthritis is related to the age of the animal. In other cases, excessive wear and tear of a joint or poor conformation predispose a dog or cat to arthritis.
How do we Treat Osteoarthritis?
While weight alone doesn’t cause arthritis, excessive weight can make arthritis and the associated pain worse. Over half of the dogs we see are overweight to some degree.
Talk to us about the ideal weight for your pet. As a very general rule, an average dog should eat about 1 cup of dry food for each 20 pounds of body weight per day. This amount should be based on your dog’s ideal body weight. If you have trouble achieving ideal weight, we can discuss alternatives to help you. One very helpful diet is a prescription diet available through veterinarians called Metabolic by Hill’s Science diet.
Exercise is important to control your pet’s arthritis. Obviously the degree of arthritis and other health issues can play a role in what amount of exercise your pet can tolerate. Think of your pet’s joint as a hinge—too little use can cause it to rust or freeze up, whereas too much use can wear it out. As a rule, moderate and controlled exercise is best. Avoid jumping, roughhousing, chasing Frisbees, with your pet. Leash walks and swimming are good activity choices.
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that should be included in your pet’s diet. Most dog foods have very little Omega-3 content. Omega-3s are important for a number of reasons, but especially for arthritic animals because of their anti-inflammatory properties. The important components of the Omega-3 are EPA and DHA. While fish oil has some, it has a relatively small percentage. There are products that are concentrated EPA/DHA products that are much easier for the body to absorb and use. We carry one called Free Form. There are others, but be sure to get a reputable product as these products are not regulated by the FDA and can be bogus or contain toxins. Give about 30-40 mg/kg of EPA. A 65-pound dog would take about 1000 mg of EPA.
Another way to give your dog large amounts of Omega-3 is by using a dog food made by Hill’s Science Diet called J/D (Joint Diet). J/D is effective and has extremely high amounts of Omega-3. J/D can be somewhat expensive, especially for a large dog, but again, it can be quite effective. If non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be avoided with their cost and potential side effects, J/D can be a real value.
Analgesics or Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatories are the most common form of treatment for osteoarthritis. They reduce inflammation, as well as reducing pain. There are a number of medications available and we will advise you on the best choice. It is important to select these medications with care since some dogs are more sensitive than others to the potential side effects of these analgesics. The most common side effects of analgesics include decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most pets will have pre-medication blood tests to make sure that they can safely metabolize and excrete the medication and then periodic blood tests to ensure continued safe usage. If you have any concerns following the administration of any medication we have prescribed, please discontinue them and contact us immediately.
The other commonly used products for osteoarthritis are nutritional supplements or nutraceuticals designed for joint health. These supplements improve joint function in many instances because they provide the nutritional building blocks needed by the body to produce healthy cartilage. These compounds, being nutritional products and not drugs, are non-toxic and can be used in conjunction with anti-inflammatories. The optimal result is often obtained with a nutraceutical in combination with an anti-inflammatory.
There are many supplements on the market, but we like Ultra Care II because of its broad spectrum ingredient approach to joint health. It comes in a chewable treat most dogs like. Ask us for a sample next time you are here.
Cortisone can be a great product for the control of arthritis pain. It is generally safe in the short term. It is also inexpensive. Unfortunately there can be side effects with cortisone. Increased drinking, urinating, and weight gain (often counter-productive) are common.
More importantly, on a long-term basis cortisone can decrease immune function, predispose to diabetes, cause joint destruction, and decrease muscle mass. As such, we try to avoid cortisone. However, in the event other products are not working well, or if we are nearing the end of a pet’s lifespan, cortisone can sometimes be used to buy months to years of quality time.
With weight control, controlled and moderate exercise, Omega-3 supplements, nutraceuticals, and (with our without) anti-inflammatory drugs, many dogs can have their osteoarthritis pain controlled for several years.
We will be happy to work with you to find the best approach to manage your pet’s arthritis. Please contact us for a consultation.