What are some strategies to treat arthritis in pets?
Original Question: Thank you for responding to my question about the 10 year old Malamute eliminating in the house. The urine sample was ok. My vet thinks she was in pain and put her on Tramadol for 10 days and she also is on Joint Power Meg by Ubavet. She has not had a problem since then. -
There isn’t much of a question here but the fact that you mention Tramadol and Joint Power Meg suggests to me that your dog may also have arthritis. If you would like more information about arthritis in pets, below is an article I wrote about the 7 Key Strategies for Treating Arthritis in Pets that I think you may find helpful.
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 in reducing weight than exercising your pet, especially when exercise can exacerbate the pain of arthritis. Here we have couple of videos that I would encourage you to take a look: “Alternative Therapy for Pain and Arthritis in Dogs & Cats” and “Preventing Obesity in Pets”.
2. Give your pet glucosamine/chondroitin products
These two supplements are often combined in the same product and they both are known to help prevent osteoarthritis. 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.
Dosage for these products is as follows: 15-30 mg of glucosamine or chondroitin (or in combination) for every kg of body weight. 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 30-40lbs. 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. I would recommend you to have a look at our video “Signs of Arthritis in Cats and Dogs & 4 Key Factors to Prevent Lameness or Stiffness” that goes into details on this topic.
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 glycoaminoglycans 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. We have a great video covering this topic that you can take a look, entitled “Treating Pets With Acupuncture Especially When Surgery Is Not an Option”. 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 pets.
Dr. Clayton Greenway
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