Limping and pain are the most obvious symptoms of arthritis. But more subtle signs like being slow to stand from a sitting or lying down position, an overall decrease in activity, or restlessness may clue you in for an earlier diagnosis. Attention should be paid to these early signs of arthritis, because early intervention almost always results in a better response to treatment and more successful patient outcomes.
Noticing some (or maybe all) of these symptoms in your dog? The next step is a comprehensive examination by your veterinarian. Diagnostic testing (usually x-rays, but in some cases a CT scan) will be used to confirm a diagnosis of arthritis. Damage from arthritis is irreversible, but there are steps to successfully manage the disease process and keep your dog happy and healthy.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): Very effective in managing mild to moderate arthritis pain, and by reducing inflammation in the joint can also slow the progression of disease. In more advanced or severe cases, your veterinarian may need to prescribe additional medications to the pain management regimen.
- Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs): Adequan is a commonly used PSGAG. Given by injection, these substances move rapidly to the joint and increase the viscosity (or thickness) of the joint fluid, helping to lubricate the joint and decrease pain.
- Fatty Acid Supplementation: Omega-3 Fatty acids, specifically Free-Form EPA/DHA, can help reduce inflammation, providing comfort for your pet and reducing further damage to the joint. Fatty acids come in many forms, but they are not all created equal. Before purchasing, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.
- Glucosamine-Chondroitin: Commonly used to treat arthritic patients and we have seen the most benefit using products that include MSM and other natural anti-inflammatory substances. Like fatty acids, not all glucosamine supplements are good quality, so ask for your veterinarian’s recommendation.
- Weight Management: Obesity is one of the most common diseases encountered in veterinary practice. Effective weight management not only reduces strain on the joints and muscles, but also reduces inflammatory mediators in the body.
- Low Impact Exercise: Maintaining good muscle tone provides support to the joints, improves mobility, and also helps in effective weight management. Focusing on low impact exercises (like walking in loose sand or swimming), can avoid unnecessary strain on arthritic joints.
- Alternative Therapies: Acupuncture, Herbs, and Cold Laser Therapy are helpful for some patients.
- Stem Cell Therapy: An exciting and relatively new treatment modality has become available to veterinary patients in the form of stem cells. This is a minimally invasive procedure that has multiple benefits for arthritic dogs. Stem cells are harvested from the dog’s own fat cells, and injected directly into the affected joints. These stem cells have anti-inflammatory and regenerative properties that can help restore arthritic joints.
Clearly there are many factors to consider in managing your arthritic dog, starting with a diagnosis. In most cases, multimodal therapy (using multiple of the above strategies at the same time) yields the best results.