As dogs age, they can start showing some of the same symptoms that humans develop in the aging process. One of the more common conditions is arthritis in dogs, often referred to as degenerative joint disease.
In a young healthy pet, the cartilage between the bones of a joint protects them from rubbing together. This cartilage is lubricated with joint fluid to facilitate smooth movement. As a dog ages, the cartilage can degenerate, and the bones start to have direct contact. These changes cause an irregular bony surface in the joint and the development of new bone for stabilization – which results in painful inflammation and a decrease in mobility.
Early signs of arthritis in dogs can include slowing down when getting up from their bed or on walks, and difficulty jumping up into the car or onto the couch. There can also be clear signs of lameness on an affected leg. A dog with arthritis is uncomfortable and can be more prone to injury due to existing joint inflammation.
Although the bony changes in a joint cannot be reversed, there are several things that can be done to reduce inflammation and make your pet more comfortable. The treatments can be combined into a multi-modal therapy to provide optimum results.
Arthritis in Dogs Tips
Many older dogs are overweight due to decreased metabolism and activity. Carrying extra weight can result in increased pain, and increased wear and tear on arthritic joints. Weight loss can have a dramatic effect on a dog’s comfort, mobility, and activity level. If your dog is overweight, consult with a veterinarian to develop an appropriate diet plan. You would be amazed at how much better they feel when at an ideal weight.
One of the therapies often used for arthritis, especially initially, is a cartilage protectant such as Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM or fish oil products. These are nutritional supplements designed to help the joint cartilage. There are a large number of such products on the market that are of varying quality, so it is best to consult with a veterinarian for a recommendation.
Many dogs benefit from a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID). Human drugs, such as Ibuprofen, can be toxic to a dog’s liver or kidneys and can also cause diarrhea, vomiting, or stomach ulcers. Prescription NSAIDs that are designed for dogs are generally safe, but not without risk, and a blood test prior to their use is recommended to check for good liver and kidney function. If a dog is on a daily NSAID, their laboratory results are usually monitored on a regular basis.
Adequan (Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycan) is a product that was initially used as joint injections for horses. It was found that this product helps with cartilage damage, even when not directly injected into a joint. Adequan helps lubricate affected joints and has mild anti-inflammatory effects. There is a loading dose of injections for the first four to six weeks, and then they are usually spaced out to monthly. These injections can be done at a veterinarian’s office, or you can learn how to give them at home. The injections can also be administered in to acupuncture points for increased benefit, and can easly be incorporated into acupuncture treatment sessions.
Herbal supplements can be very helpful with reducing the pain and inflammation of arthritis. There is not a ‘one herb fits all’ type of supplement – they are prescribed based on a pet’s individual condition, after an assessment by a veterinarian trained in Chinese medicine and/or herbal therapy.
Cold Laser Treatment
Cold laser treatment is also an anti-inflammatory modality that is used to treat arthritis in dogs. It is a painless modality that penetrates tissue to release endorphins, assist with cell regeneration, and improve blood circulation.
Acupuncture for dogs with arthritis is becoming much more wide spread. Acupuncture can increase blood flow to help reduce inflammation and provide greater comfort by stimulating release of endorphins and anti-inflammatory substances, as well as relaxing muscles surrounding the affected joints.
Acupuncture needles are placed in specific points that have been mapped out over thousands of years. Research has shown that these points have increased nerve and vascular bundles to improve blood flow and oxygenation, which helps joints move more freely and with less pain.
Most dogs are amenable to acupuncture treatments, but those that are overly sensitive to needles can benefit from laser treatment with an acupuncture tip. Another way to provide acupuncture for dogs with arthritis is to use aquapuncture, which is the injection of a small amount of Vitamin B12 or Adequan into the acupuncture points. Electrical stimulation of acupuncture points can also be used to relax muscle spasms and help with nerve function.
Chiropractic care can be used to address arthritis in dogs, especially if your pet is out of alignment and placing excessive stress on a joint. Spinal imbalance can be created when pets bear weight or move asymmetrically due to different comfort levels in different joints, adding to the patient’s discomfort. Chiropractic adjustments can restore balance and help improve motion in the joints as well as reduce pain to make your pet more comfortable.
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy is another safe and non-invasive treatment for arthritis pain and other conditions. It has been referred to as an “NPAID” or non pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory device. It sends electromagnetic waves painlessly into tissue to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation. One way to administer PEMF is with a device called an Assisi Loop. A PEMF treatment takes about 15 minutes and can be administered in the office or at home, up to 4 times/day. It is a nice option for clients who want to be able to perform regular treatments easily at home.
All of these treatment modalities for arthritis are available at Wise and Wonderful Integrative Veterinary Center. Feel free to call us at 707-984-4700 for a consultation appointment on what overall treatment plan would work best for your pet.