7 Strategies for Treating Arthritis in Cats and Dogs
By: Dr. Clayton Greenway, B.Sc., DVM | Jul 18, 2016
This is a huge problem that is often not treated thoroughly and even more so, preventatively. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition, which means it only gets worse over time. The key is to halt or slow down the process as much as possible. Consider these strategies for treating arthritis in cats and dogs.
1. Prevent obesity.
This is the most important and yet the most ignored aspect of preventing the progression of arthritis in our pets. We express our love for our pets through food, so we need to eliminate calorie-dense treats and choose calorie-restricted diets for our pets. Most store-bought foods are too high in calories. Look at the calorie content of your food and find a brand that is lower in calories. Measure meal sizes appropriately to help your pet maintain its ideal body weight. Keep in mind that dietary management has a far greater effect on reducing weight than exercising your pet, especially when exercise can exacerbate the pain of arthritis in cats and dogs.
2. Glucosamine/chondroitin products.
These two supplements are often combined in the same product and they both are known to help prevent osteoarthritis in dogs and cats. There is evidence that human products are highly variable in the amount of supplement that is in each capsule and that animals don’t respond well to this. Veterinary products are more reliable—and unfortunately, more expensive—but I’ve seen this result clinically. I no longer recommend human products because I have so often seen patients do so much better on the veterinary products.
When these supplements are combined in the same product, you’ll often find approximately 500mg glucosamine/400mg chondroitin and you can give this much for every 30-40 lbs. of body weight. These products are quite safe, have little risk of side effects, and as a result, they don’t have to be dosed perfectly, but try to get as close as possible.There are two categories of glucosamine/chondroitin products: those derived from natural or chemical sources. If you look at the ingredient list on the bottle, you will either see the actual amount of each supplement in milligrams, or you will see the natural ingredient which contains them listed by name. I have seen the best results with products that have both chemical and natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin, then the natural source products, and I see the least ideal results out of the strictly chemical source products.
3. Manage exercise.
Try to restrict exercise to a length and intensity that does not cause stiffness or lameness the next day. This is important to preventing inflammation in the joints. Any inflammation that develops will further damage the cartilage and progress the arthritis.
4. Try NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
NSAIDs (such as Deramaxx, Metacam, and Rimadyl) are commonly prescribed to reduce the inflammation, control pain and prevent further progression of the disease. You’ll want to work with your veterinarian to select the right NSAID and its dose. Try to achieve a state where you are using these at the minimum dose that controls the symptoms. I routinely monitor kidney and liver values; at least annually but preferably every six months, to make sure the long-term use of these are not harming your pet. I have rarely seen concerning side effects in my patients, but they can happen. Often, the quality of life improvement that is achieved by using these drugs far outweigh the risk.
These medications are simple to use, have quick and powerful effects, but can be costly, especially for large breed dogs. There are NSAIDs that you can get over-the-counter at your local human pharmacy, but they are not appropriate for veterinary use. There are dosages presented in veterinary formularies but they are considered ‘off-label’ meaning that there have been no research trials to evaluate their performance and side effects on our pets. Many specialists believe that you could increase the risk of harmful side effects by using them. Clinically I have had many clients tell me they use them often, but I have also seen a case or two where they caused disturbing and dangerous side effects. You use them at your own risk and the health risk to your pet.
5. Try polysulfated glycosaminoglycans and pentosans.
These are fantastic products that are often under-utilized in the control of osteoarthritis. These are medications your veterinarian will often administer by injection. They can reduce pain and inflammation, and stimulate production of the body’s natural products in the joint that maintain its health. They are extremely safe and I have yet to see these medications cause a side effect in 11 years of practice. These medications are also inexpensive and are used infrequently. Different protocols exist, but the injections can be done on a weekly or semi-weekly basis over the course of a month or two. The result can be a sustained improvement in function and reduction in symptoms over many months after finishing the treatment. While they may not be helpful for pets with advanced cases of osteoarthritis, they work extremely well in the early-to mid-stages of the disease. I highly recommend asking your veterinarian about these medications.
6. Try other methods of pain control.
Opioid medications like morphine products can be used to eliminate the pain of osteoarthritis. They are often used in the later stages of arthritis or when other products are not helping the situation. They are reasonably priced and often have no concerning side effects other than sedation and possibly constipation. They will improve quality of life, but they will not reduce the inflammation that advances the arthritis.
7. Consider alternative therapies.
I cannot overstate the help that can be provided by taking your pet to an acupuncturist or chiropractor to help control osteoarthritic problems. Physiotherapists exist that can evaluate and put in place a program to aid in the control of osteoarthritis. I am not formally trained in these fields so I don’t give specific advice on them, but I have seen good clinical results from their use. It’s best to look in your area for a professional in one of these fields that is experienced in treating arthritis in cats and dogs.
For a brief overview about tips on treating arthritis in cats and dogs take a look at the clip below!
Disclaimer: healthcareforpets.com and its team of veterinarians and clinicians do not endorse any products, services, or recommended advice. All advice presented by our veterinarians, clinicians, tools, resources, etc is not meant to replace a regular physical exam and consultation with your primary veterinarian or other clinicians. We always encourage you to seek medical advice from your regular veterinarian.